Monday, December 24, 2012

Chris Sisson's Best of 2012

Happy holidays from Team Sisson, and congratulations on receiving Chris Schuck's 11th Annual Surprise Birthday Bash for Jesus.  We've selected 19 tracks from our 18 favorite albums of 2012 for your listening pleasure. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

1. Now, Now "The Pull"
2. Now, Now "Prehistoric"
Album: Threads
We kick things off nice and gently with the opening two tracks from the very lovely Threads.  "Prehistoric" is the star of the show, but "The Pull" bleeds into it so nicely we had to give you both.  Formerly Now, Now Every Children, Now, Now is a trio based in Minneapolis.  They've recieved some nice buzz this year and were recently featured on a Windows 8 commercial.  Here's the title track, "Thread" and "Separate Rooms".

3. Adam Arcuragi "The Well"
Album: Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It...
Adam Arcuragi has what doctors call, "a fantastic voice."  He's also the inventor of a genre he calls Death Gospel.  Based in Philadelphia, he hails from Georgia, which makes him the first of three Birthday Bash participants from the Peach State (that would make a great trivia question...hmmm).  Here's "Oh I See" and "President's Song".

4. Murder By Death "Lost River"
Album: Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon
We at Team Sisson have become increasingly aware that The Birthday Bash has become somewhat predictable over time.  Early in 2012 we decided that this year we would only include artists that have never been included.  This rule turned out to be pretty easy to follow since really none of the usual suspects (Wilco, Spoon, Black Keys, etc.) released any new material.  However, there were two records from previous participants that were just too good to leave out, and Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon was one of them.  MBD first appeared on the 2008 Birthday Bash with Red Of Tooth And Claw, which remains in heavy rotation at Team Sisson headquarters.  Bitter Drink features the usual dark themes and baritone vocals of Adam Turla, but also includes several welcome vocals from cellist Sarah Balliet.  That's right, cellist.  If there's one thing rock music couuld use more of, its the cello.  Also check out "No Oath, No Spell"

5. The Polyphonic Spree "What Would You Do?"
Polyphonic Spree isn't really in the running for album of the year.  They did put out a record of Christmas music, but "What Would You Do?" was released back in the spring, and appears to just be a one-off single.  Since it just may be our favorite song of the year, we'll bend the rules and include it on the Bash.  We haven't really heard much from The Polyphonic Spree in several years, and frankly were never all that impressed to begin with.  You may remember hearing about a band that had like 30 members and wore choir robes when they performed.  That was them.  I almost always like bands that have a ton of people on stage, but this was gimmicky, and more importantly I just didn't dig the songs.  Of note, 2011 Bash participant, St. Vincent was in the band prior to making a go of it on her own.  However, whatever I used to think about this band went out the window when I heard "What Would You Do?"  It is such a great, rocking, uplifting song!  We love it, and we bet you will too.

6. Japandroids "The House That Heaven Built"
Album: Celebration Rock
Our favorite song of the year sets up what is hands down, no question about it our favorite record of not just this year, but maybe of the past 5 years.  It is impossible for me to listen to Celebration Rock without wearing a big goofy smile.  It begins and ends with audio of a fireworks display and in the middle are 8 tracks of sweaty guitar and relentless drums with sing along choruses, remember the good ol' days lyrics and so much noise it's hard to believe Japandroids is just a two-piece.  On their end of the year wrap-up show, one of the NPR music guys called this the most appropriately titled record of the year.  He also mentioned how the theme of the record appeals to 30-something guys nostalgic for the youth of their not too distant past.  Maybe that's why I like it so much.  Or maybe it's just damn good.  Here's "Fire's Highway", "Adrenaline Nightshift", "Younger Us" and "Evil's Sway".

7. Killer Mike "Reagan"
Album: R.A.P. Music
Altlana rapper and Dungeon Family associate Killer Mike rhyming over El-P beats?  Hell yes!  This is exactly what is missing from rap these days.  El-P's production hits like a sledgehammer and Killer Mike puts on a lyrical clinic on R.A.P. Music.  El-P, who appeared on the 2007 Birthday Bash also released a solo record this year (Cancer 4 Cure) that is peppering best-of 2012 lists.  While I like Cancer, I am in love with R.A.P. Music.  Looking at the total plays on i-tunes, it appears this record wins the "Most Listened To" prize at Team Sisson HQ.  As with several of this year's artists, it was very difficult to pick which track to include on the Bash.  We went with "Reagan," because more than any other track I think it showcases how on point both of these guys were making this record.  Also check out "Big Beast" (featuring Bun B, T.I., and zombie strippers) and "Untitled".

8. Alt J "Fitzpleasure"
Album: An Awesome Wave
Big thanks to Mike Kallenberger for making "Fitzpleasure" one of his songs of the day back in the spring.  I was pleasantly surprised when An Awesome Wave finally came out in September that the whole record was worth a spin.  The sound is fresh throughout, and while the vocals could be grating, I think they fit the music nicely, becoming another instrument creating intersting noise.  These guys won the Mercury Prize this year, which I would compare to our Grammy's, except the Mercury Prize seems to always go to deserving artists.  Here's "Tessellate", "Breezeblocks" , and here they are doing a Take Away Show at a Parisian cafe playing "Matilda/Dissolve Me". 

9. Lost In The Trees "Red"
Album: A Church That Fits Our Needs
We stumbled on North Carolina's own Lost In The Trees after innocently clicking a link on the All Songs Considered blog early in the year.  "Red" may be in the running for both prettiest song of the year and prettiest video of the year.  If you like what you hear, why don't you innocently click on the links for "Icy River",  "Villain" or "Garden"?

10. Sharon Van Etten "Serpent"
Album: Tramp
Sharon Van Etten's Epic was an epic miss for the Birthday Bash back in 2010 (see "Save Yourself" and "Don't Do It").  Our apologies.  "Serpent" was released as a single ahead of Tramp in December of last year and immediately set the bar for the 2012 Bash.  At the time it seemed like a lock for song of the year, although it was eventually beaten out by the one Polyphonic Spree song and every song on Celebration Rock.  It almost didn't matter how good the rest of the album turned out to be since it was such a great tune.  Luckily for all involved Tramp revealed itself to be worthy.  Sharon is a singer/songwriter based in Brooklyn (surprise!) and a lot was made of the super cool brooklynite indie cameos on the record.  Tramp was produced  by Aaron Dessner of The National and features appearances by members of Wye Oak and the Walkmen.  Honestly, I never would have noticed the star studded guest list if I hadn't read about it.  What I did notice is the more fleshed out sound.  While her previous work was mostly her and an acoustic guitar, Tramp comes complete with electric guitars, keys and even drums!  If you liked "Serpent", please enjoy "Give Out" and "Magic Chords".

11. Jack White "Sixteen Saltines"
Album: Blunderbuss
Unbelievably, The White Stripes never made it on to a Birthday Bash.  That's not to say we weren't fans.  I think it was more that we assumed everyone had already heard enough of any White Stripes album since they all seemed to have 4-5 singles.  These days it's hard to know what people have heard since we're all getting our music from places other than the radio.  For all I know, you're already heard Blunderbuss, learned to play it on a keytar, and included it on your own Best of 2012 list.  But if you haven' should.  Well listen to it at least, and maybe the keytar thing.  While "Sixteen Saltines" sounds awfully White Stripesy, the rest of the record is much less so.  There are keys, melodies and backup vocals all over the place here.  Check out "Love Interruption", "Freedom at 21", or  "I'm Shakin'" and tell me that's not awesome.  Go ahead.

12. Aesop Rock "Zero Dark Thirty"
Album: Skelethon
Aesop Rock has been a Team Sisson favorite since we first heard "Daylight" back in 2001.  Skelethon, out on the Rhymesayers label, makes this something like the 5th year we've featured a Rhymesayers artist (I honestly haven't listened to the new P.O.S. or Brother Ali records yet, but as stated above, we're trying to keep the Bash free of previously included artists).  Aesop used to be on El-P's Def Jux label in Brooklyn until it folded, and has since moved to San Francisco and teamed up with those afforementioned Minnesotans.  I think this is the strongest Aesop Rock record from top to bottom from both a lyrical and production standpoint.  Our favorite track may be the closer, "Gopher Guts" where in between giving pep talks to baby snakes, green frogs and ghost crabs he puts aside his impossible to follow metaphors to spit one of the most unbelievably introspective verses I've ever heard in a rap song.  "Ruby '81" paints a vivid picture of a July 4th party that narrowly avoids tragedy thanks to an alert dog.  Here's "Homemade Mummy", "Cycles To Gehenna", and "ZZZ Top".  Basically, if you like "Zero Dark Thirty" you'll like the whole record, and probably Aesop's whole calatog.....which we celebrate.

13. Baroness "Take My Bones Away"
Album: Yellow and Green
This one may surprise you.  I took a listen to Yellow and Green (which is actually a double album, one Yellow, one Green) after reading a favorable Pitchfork review this summer.  Since then I've thought many times about how much different it is to be a metal fan now versus being a metal fan 20 years ago.  We like Yellow and Green because it take the heavy sound and ridiculously technical musicianship required of today's metal artists, and adds melody and decipherable lyrics.  The end result is something really beautiful, and something I haven't really heard in a long time.  I'm not saying there aren't other bands that sound like this, but this one caught my ear, and now it's catching yours.  In some sad news, this August while on tour in England, Baroness' bus crashed sending nine people to the hospital.  All involved survived, but the band and crew are still recovering.  Here's the gorgeous "Eula".

14. Cloud Nothings "Stay Useless"
Album: Attack On Memory
Attack On Memory came out pretty early in 2012, and despite being on near constant repeat all year, we here at Team Sisson HQ have yet to tire of it.  I wasn't too familiar with Cloud Nothings prior to 2012, but apparently it started out as a bedroom recording project for Cleveland's Dylan Bialdi.  Memory seems to come as somewhat of a surprise to the indie music media based on previous work.  Produced by Steve Albini, I've heard some people talk about how 90's this record sounds.  I'm not sure if I agree with that.  The lo-fi nature of the production and sometimes screaming vocals disguise the fact that for the most part, this record is chock-full of super catchy songs that really really rock, with "Stay Useless" maybe being the catchiest.  These guys are also reputed to be fantastic live.  Why don't you also enjoy "Fall In", "No Future/No Past" and "No Sentiment"?

15. Drop Electric "Empire Trashed"
Album: Drop Electric Sampler Platter
I really know very little about Drop Electric other than I heard "Empire Trashed" and loved every second of it.  Their website (linked know all of these things are linked right?)  says "Drop Electric is an experimental rock band based in Washington D.C. and NYC. Based in melody and distortion and deeply inspired by cinema, their live show is a combination of evocative music, unique vocals and narrative film."  OK, sounds good to me.  Of all the great tunes on the Bash in 2012, this one may the one you're still humming the next day.  The rest of the EP is pretty killer too.  Here's "Santo Domingo"

16. Of Monsters And Men "Dirty Paws"
Album: My Head Is An Animal
Special thanks goes out to Derick "The D-Man" Miranda for bringing Of Monsters And Men to my attention, then keeping it there.  In the end, it wouldn't be a Birthday Bash without hearing something from Iceland.  These guys are like a cross between Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros and Los Campesinos, so of course I like them.  You've probably heard "Little Talks" at some point this year, but for my money, "Dirty Paws" is the best song on the record.  I love the casual lyric, "the son was an ok guy, he had a pet dragonfly."  You may have noticed Team Sisson enjoys a slow build to an exuberant crescendo, as well as songs detailing wars between animals.  Here's "Mountain Sound".

17. Kendrick Lamar "m.A.A.d city"
Album: good kid, m.A.A.d city
One of the early favorites to make the Bash was "There He Go" off of Schoolboy Q's Habits and Contradictions, but one listen to good kid and there was no doubt as to which member of LA's Black Hippy crew was getting the nod.  Frankly, Team Sisson has been a little obsessed with good kid these past few weeks. This is a record that over 11 tracks tells the story of one night in a teenage Kendrick Lamar's life, as he and his homies deal with gangs, girls and above all, peer pressure in South Central LA.  While these themes aren't new territory exactly, the descriptions of internal struggle with various influences are so vivid, you're really able to sympathize with he and his peers.  As someone who wore out The Chronic and Doggystyle in high school, it occurrs to me that we haven't really heard anything of any artistic consequence coming out of that area since then.  After listening to good kid, it seems that not much has changed.  Track 12 is "Compton," which is sort of a celebration about making it in Compton, complete with a guest spot by Dr Dre.  In addition to the superb production and jawdropping lyrics, nearly every track begins or ends with interludes featuring either Kendrick and his buddies or voicemails from his mom and dad which actually help to propel the narrative rather than simply acting as filler.  Do yourself a favor and check out "Swimming Pools".

18. Jason Lytle "Dept. Of Disappearance"
Album: Dept. Of Disappearance
There will be no gushing over Dept. Of Disappearance here.  I will say that this is a very nice record with some really catchy tunes, and it absolutely deserves to be here.  It's just that I just got done writing about the new Kendrick Lamar, and I still have it rocking in my headphones.  While I'm still in Kendrickville (somewhere on Rosecrantz) entertain yourselves with "Somewhere There's a Someone" and the exquisitely pretty "Matterhorn."  You know what?  I may be a while.  Here he is doing a Tiny Desk Concert a couple of months ago. 

19. Mount Eerie "Ocean Roar"
Album: Ocean Roar
Just as we began, we gently close what has turned out to be a phenomenal Birthday Bash with a lovely track from Mount Eerie.  Mount Eerie is the project of Phil Elverum, a very talented musician from Anacortes, WA.  Team Sisson first heard Mount Eerie on a best of 2009 rundown when they played "Wind's Dark Poem" from Wind's Poem.  This year he released two mostly instrumental EP's, Ocean Roar and Clear Moon.  Obviously we preferred Ocean Roar, but if you like one, you'll like both.  Here's "The Place Lives" from Clear Moon.

Now, what you've all been waiting for.  It's time for the Fourth Annual Birthday Bash Trivia Contest!

To quickly recap the 2012 trivia contest, we did not have a winner.  As you may recall, the question was,  "One artist pulls double duty by actually appearing twice on this year’s Bash.Who is it?"  I thought this was a pretty easy question, but in hindsight it probably would have required a little research.  The answer was Gillian Welch, who made the Bash with both her record The Harrow and the Harvest as well as by singing backup vocals on the Decemberists track "Down By The Water." 

To make up for the bad question, this year we will accept two winners. 

To be eligible to participate:
-You must have yourself received or had an immediate family member receive the Birthday Bash.
-You may not have any past or present affiliation with the "University" of Kansas. Exceptions may be made on a case by case basis.

Here's the similar yet much easier question:
One person pulls double duty by actually appearing in two different tracks on this year’s Bash. Who is it?

The first two people to correcty identify the person and the two tracks in which he or she appears will win an as yet to be determined prize. To give you an idea of how awesome your prize might be, the 2011 winners received prize packs containing Birthday Bash band merch, including t-shirts and a Spoon prayer candle! Our 2010 winner received a wallet that said "Bad Motherfucker" carrying a value of: priceless! Please e-mail your responses with "birthday bash contest" in the subject line to Good luck and have a great 2013!

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