December 26, 2012

Favorites 2012: A whole lotta love and hate and drama

This is like a novella... do get a cup of tea.

Artists of the Year: Saint Etienne. I have a soft spot for a band that nails it 22 years into their career with a concept album about loving pop music. Diverse sounds, crisp production and performance, coupled with a great tour and tons of bonuses for fans. Marina And The Diamonds, essentially flawless throughout 2012; from her promo images to the range displayed on her sophomore album, which came in a multiple versions, throwing iTunes purists into chaos. And little Jessie Ware for creating a debut record with 11 subtle masterpieces. God bless her for putting up with all those people who confused her with [shudders] Jessie J.

Killer EPs: Another year of a brilliant format! St Lucia's debut EP,  Solange's Brooklyn-cool True, Alpines' Early Hours, Jimmy Somerville's Solent, Sky Ferreira's Ghost and Florrie's Late.

Albums That Should Have Been Epic EPs Instead of Long Players: Madonna's MDNA and Pet Shop Boys' Elysium.

Singing Voice(s) Of The Year: Sky Ferreira, who finally found her true voice on the Ghost EP.  Rod Thomas, aka Bright Light Bright Light, whose pure, honest singing enhances the emotional themes on his pop debut without ever gilding the lily. True of the Jessie Ware too.

Saddest Record I Cannot Play For Fear Of Doing A Sylvia Plath: Ellie "There's trouble ahead, I can feel it" Goulding's forlorn (if overproduced) Halcyon

Performance Of The Year: Easy. Frank Ocean performing Bad Religion on Fallon. His first TV appearance was the most emotional performance of the year. His sweet smile when Fallon thanks him at the end reminded me of when Sia was on Letterman  several years ago and you could tell she knew she had fucking slayed it. Fallon was a well-earned career moment for Frank.

The Most Repetitive Imagery Award goes to Lippy Lana Del Rey. Daddies, mobsters, Marilyn, Jesus, trashy dumb girls, gun molls, Vegas, old men. The lyrics are like a word cloud of seven or so images repeated over and over.

Imagery I Was Most Uncomfortable With: Madonna's gun obsessed opening act on her MDNA tour. And we all know that I'll be the one who's called a killjoy in this scenario but, sorry, it was [sips tea] reductive.

Unadulterated Fail of the Year: 7 Digital being forced to cave to international licensing issues, thus making it impossible for fans to buy music from other territories' shops. This problem remains an inexplicable blight on music sales. Said it before: Work it out or we'll find a way to get the music elsewhere.

Producer Of The Year:  Dave Okumu and Julio Bashmore for their work on Jessie Ware's cool and accessible Devotion. And Dev "Blood Orange" Hynes for his double whammy of the Solange EP True and Sky Fereiria's whip-smart single, Everything Is Embarrassing

Have You Seen This Band? Award: Scissor Sisters, for the unrecognizable Magic Hour (a record many did like). The only truly Scisstery song on it was also a sleeper hit: Let's Have A Kiki.

Best Website: Popjustice Forums, and its parent site, of course. Idolator too, which I sometimes write for! Does Soundcloud count as a website? If you're an artist who doesn't use it, I am probably not listening to  you.

Biggest Album Cover Fail: Gossip's dire Joyful Noise cover image, which completely counteracted the title and actual sound of the album. Aside from the fact it was scarily off-putting. Beth Ditto deserved a truly iconic image for that pop disco LP.

Album I Wanted To Like But Just Could Not Play Neneh Cherry's aggrojazz return with The Cherry Thing. #dontunderstandit

Worst Website: The Blogger backend redux, which came close to killing my love of blogging.

Live Show Of The Year: Grace Jones going down with the ebulient ship that was New York the night before Hurricane Sandy. Her Roseland show was a life moment for me (my review). Also loved Gold Fields / St Lucia at U Street Music Hall in DC. Also love Saint Etienne at Webster Hall in NYC and Dragonette at the Black Cat in DC.

The Where Does This Career Go Now Award: Lana Del Rey. Seriously, what next?

Best Indie Acts: Autoheart, AVAN LAVA, St. Lucia, Bim, Bright Light Bright Light

Worst Video Performance: Little Boots embarrassing Every Night I Say A Prayer (good tune though).

Favorite Non Blog Piece I Did:
A fun, casual chat with Darren Hayes at the start of his fall tour. Tied with a 20th Anniversary review of Madonna's Erotica for Idolator.

Best Video Performance: Pink, doing modern dance in Try. Anything with Marina Diamandis, especially Power And Control.

When Friendly Fires Walk Away From Pop, Another Band Will HappReplace Them: New Aussie guys Gold Fields.

Best Artist To Be A Fan Of: Bright Light Bright Light,
because there's something new almost every week: a mash-up, a video, a remix. And a bare ass in Attitude Magazine. Sharing is caring.

Best Christmas Tunes:
Tracey Thorn's
wistful Joy, along with funny tracks by AVAN LAVA (Merry Christmas 2 Me) and Dragonette (Merry Xmas Says Your Text Message).

Best Remasters: Everything But The Girl's first four albums.

Best Summer Album: Make Me Believe In Hope by Bright Light Bright Light

Best Musical Man of Tweet: Once again, Aaron Gilbert of Delays, who only this week (in response to me asking where my Christmas card was) tweeted to me "I sent it ages ago with Butt Plug (XL)." And Cher! Always Cher.

Best New Artist:
Haim (group), Jessie Ware (female solo) and Bright Light Bright Light (male solo).

Most Clever Album: Good Morning To The Night, the "new" Elton John album produced by Aussie whizkids PNAU. The Sad single was the most lush, lovely moment this summer, capturing Elton's voice at it's most expressive.

The "Your Music and Your Look Are Exceedingly Middle Aged" Award: Emeli "I'm only 25, really!" Sande and her debut LP, stacked with ten ballads. Pretty songs, but lighten up belle!

Most Favored New Social Media: This Is My Jam because it's so simple to use and I truly have found new music via friends' jams.

Top Remixes Of The Year: Bright Light Bright Light Waiting For The Moment (Trouser Enthusiasts Mix), Pet Shop Boys Leaving (Believe In PSB Mix), Ed Drewett Good Morning (Monsieur Adi Mix), Pet Shop Boys Winner (Andrew Dawson Extended Happy Sad Remix), Jimmy Somerville Taken (Fred Falke Mix), Cause And Effect Happiness Is An Alien (Ecotek and James Egbert Club Mix), Bright Light Bright Light Feel It (Vinny Vero / Steve Migliore Remix). There should be many more mixes here. Tell me in the comments what I missed!

Best Stoner Anthems of 2012: No Doubt's Easy ("I've got to get the taste of greenery / I'm on a hit and run / A yummy yummy yum.") and Rihanna's self-medication brooder Get It Over With ("I see you rolling it / Let's get it over with / Get high and float again").

Most Welcome Guest Vocal On A Pop Song: Mykal Kilgore providing Rod Thomas the wailing bridge vocals on Bright Light Bright Light's summer anthem Feel It. I also fell for that kid Egypt, the toddler spawn of Alicia Keys, on the end of When It's All Over (AK: Can you say eh? Egypt: No!").

Most Unwelcome Guest Vocal On A Pop Song: Chris Brown and Rihanna carrying on about how it's none of our "bi'ness" while they're tooting up on twitter every other day (this is on her track Nobody's Business). That loathsome douchebag brings Riri down to his level: She's at her most unlikeable when defending their dysfunctional "love." Let us all hope she escapes. Seriously.

Biggest Surprise Return Album: No Doubt's blazing pop resurrection with Push And Shove. It did virtually no business. Likewise, the uncool but talented Deacon Blue released a solid album with a perfect single, The Hipsters. Jimmy Somerville also did his best work in years.

Best Cover Songs: Boy George doing Llama Del Rey's epochal Video Games, the Glee Cast's version of Smooth Criminal with those dueling cello dudes. Thrilling. Kylie also produced the definitive version of her own Hand On Your Heart.

Albums That Sounded Like One Perfect Single With Nine B-Sides: Ladyhawke's lifeless Anxiety (Cellophane was the lone masterpiece) and Van She's Idea Of Happiness, which failed to live up to the summery perfection of Jamaica

Other Disappointing Albums: I mention these because I really do think the artists are talented and generally worthy of attention. Keane's Strangeland was Mehville. Pink's rehash of everything she's done before on The Truth About Love (songs about her ages-old breakup with her husband? Really?). Alphabeat, Robbie Williams, Gypsy And The Cat, Bertine Zetlitz, Paloma Faith, Melody Gardot, Fibes O Fibes all died on my turntable. I found that my Mika ship had sailed. And I also didn't like the Garbage album (except for I Hate Love), but I think that may have just been me?

Best Look: The clever campaign of images for Marina's Electra Heart project. Pop scandal: The "don't try this at home" two-tone hair turned out to be a wig on top of real roots.

Worst Look: Well, clearly Xtuna Aguilera takes a special Lifetime Achievement Award in this category. But let me pick some higher hanging fruit: Ellie Goulding, for her pleather and death obsessed videos. I'm not even touching the Wonder Twins matching hairdo she did with her boyf Skrillex. Hey lovebirds, leave the shaving to Cassie, who did it first (and did it hot).

The Please Come Back Award: Sia, for writing the best songs on various other artists' albums (see Blank Page on Xtuna's Lotus and Diamonds by Riri). Both of those tracks have moments of subtle beauty uncharacteristic of their vocalists.

The PR Award: Really? You Expect Me To Fall For This? Azealia Banks. One perfect song (212) does not a career make. The press and fashion worlds have anointed her their goddess. Play me the songs. This could change, of course.

Worst Trends: Everything on the charts sounding like a clusterfuck of Dr Luke/ Katy Perry/ Riri/ Calvin Harris/ EDM. Worst offender? The pointlessly derivative debut by Rita Ora, a very pretty singer with very bad taste in men (Jonah Hill and a Kardashian). The other worst trend (or worse trend) is easily the disgusting resurgence of Chris Brown. Who exactly are these Chris Brown fans?

The We Still Cannot Understand What The Fuck You're Singing Award. Tori Amos, on her otherwise incredible single, the sweeping Flavor. The way she says the word "jurisdiction," it ages me.

Best Prince Imitation: Somebody by Niki And The Dove. Or maybe it's the Stand Back of 2012? Stand Back mixed with Little Red Corvette? Whatever, it's blazing.

Let's Admit It Ain't Gon' Happen Award: Cassie and Little Boots. Talented and doomed.

Worst Song: MDNA's utterly shit Give Me All Your Luvin, her weakest single in many years. Also: Girls Aloud's smug faux-humility ballad Beautiful Cause You Love Me, and Alphabeat's relentlessly perky Vacation. I'm leaving off artists I reallllly hate. What's the point?

Most Unexpectedly Gorgeous Song From An Otherwise Terrible Artist: Telescope by Cheryl (cough) Cole. More of this 70's ONJ wistfulness please, Ms Tweedy.

Best Not-The-Actual-Lyric: Actual misheard lyric on Marina And The Diamonds' Power And Control: "It's gonna be a fucking war." Actual lyric: "Eternal game of tug and war." Wishful misheard lyric: "I once wrote such Yiddish words for you" from Elton and PNAU's Sad. Actual lyric: "I once wrote such childish words for you."

Thank you to all who stuck with this blog in 2012. Please comment any time or find me on Tumblr, lastFM, This Is My Jam and Twitter. Lulz. I need a life!

image by Hedi Slimane


countpopula said...

Was that George Michael single really 2012? God, it seems like ages, or maybe that's how quickly I wrote it off. White Light was pretty good though. Whatever happened to the promised LP?

Similar feelings re Chris Brown (do his management really think all this Riri bonding is good for his image?) and Xtuna constantly failing to find her real artistic image (if there really IS one).

Poor No Doubt. That ship has sailed. Even Matchbox 20, the Wallflowers, and Ben Folds Five sold more records in my store.

Keane was OK, but we KNOW they can do better.

I think the fact that Lana del Rey could do almost ANYTHING else registers as a surprise and growth move. Loved her albums and songs, even if rather one note. Hopefully she will NOT stray too far from the formula. Would she be better off rocking out (a la Shirley Manson) or popping it up (Katy Perry style)? Neither, really.

Sorry, that Pet Shop album is one of their best. I wouldn't lose ONE song, not even Hold On. Listen to their live performance w orchestra of that--the arrangement really benefitted from a live setting where the synth was less cheesy. It will one day be viewed as a lost masterpiece and their moment to get some Breathing Space. The last three tunes are three of my favorite songs they have EVER recorded.

DanProject76 said...

I seem to have missed so much bad music this year! Agree with a lot of this (the things I have heard anyway). No Doubt's relative commercial flop baffles me, as does the success of a lot of the personality-free pop that did do well. I am an old man and I like that!

I should check out that Sky Ferreira EP. Glad you also love the return of Mr Somerville this year as his recent EPs would have made an Album of the Year if put together as one bigger project.

Rod & Jessie as male and female of the year is pretty spot on and although I like Marina and bought it I didn't go as mad for the album as you did.

Anonymous said...

I love Sky Ferreira. Everyone has to check that out.
I don't agree with your criticism of Madonna's gun imagery in the MDNA tour. I don't think you can look at that one segment in isolation from the rest of the show. As she says, it's a journey. You have to have the dark part to get to the joy of LAP and Celebration. She's not saying it's great to shoot people, but violence is a part of life. It doesn't make it go away by not showing it in art.
I really didn't care for Boy George's cover of Video Games. I know I"m supposed to like him, but I've always found him so overrated and overhyped especially in the gay community. His version is just a karaoke version of the original. I don't see much reinvention or creativity. And I hate his voice now. He sounds 100 years old, raspy and off key. He sounds sort of dead and bored, it totally removes the sadness and moodiness that made the original brilliant.

Anonymous said...

One thing I don't understand about Boy George is everyone welcomes him, but everyone wants to ban Chris Brown from singing or doing anything when they both committed heinous violent crimes against other people. Why was Boy George allowed to handcuff another human being to a wall, beat him with a chain and he's still held up as a role model for our community and praised for just some lame karaoke cover? I guess if you wear enough makeup anything is forgiven.

xolondon said...

Anything positive you want to say, Anon?:)

I don't think M is saying guns are good. But I think she's very Tarantino-esque in how she delivers whatever message she is trying to deliver (I take it as anger/rage from personal pain). And right now, in the climate we're in here (in America), it's not imagery I want to see. Me, personally.