|Wilco, live in concert|
1. Wilco - The Whole Love (2011) and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002). Biggest obsession: Jesus Etc. Here's the official video and a nice live performance. Next biggest obsession: The Art of Almost. Why I love this music (can one really say?): Songs are both just plain good and full of sonic experimention. I love the casual quality of Jeff Tweedy's singing and the tenderness. We saw them in November and they were incredible live. Credit for discovery (because she likes to get credit): BG.
2. Arcade Fire - Love the Suburbs (2010), and all their earlier albums. Let's have Ready to Start. And also In the Backseat, a Regine Chassagne masterpiece that also showcases all the musicianship in the band. Don't complain that she sings out of tune, because that will only show you don't understand how imperfection and emotionality go hand in hand. Why they're great: powerful rock sound with lots of musical complexity and emotional intensity. Win Butler's anguished voice is to-die-for (as we used to say). We saw Arcade Fire last summer at a small-ish venue in Dallas (not sold out....!!!!), which was a huge thrill. Credit for discovery: DB. Head of home fanclub and obsessive-in-chief: BG.
3. The Decemberists. And now for something very different. I was a little slow to catch on, because these guys are so "folk" but they are edgy folk and devastatingly good. Let's have the Shnkhill Butchers from The Crane Wife (2006). Credit for discovery: PG.
4. Kanye West. The above three groups speak to me personally, and Kanye doesn't very often, but so what? I don't relate to the crazy dramas depicted in Puccini's operas, but I love Puccini's operas. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) is an amazing album, full of musical complexity and beauty. Let's have the first song on the album, Dark Fantasy. I was an R&B and Motown fan way back when, but it took frequent pummeling with Eminem by my son to turn me into a rap fan. Confession: I like the musical bits on Dark Fantasy most, but I'm working on giving the "flow" my full attention. (I just learned the word "flow" -- the rap part -- from reading Decoded, by Jay-Z. Good book!) I also like (but not as much) Watch the Throne (2011), the Kanye West plus Jay-Z album. We saw the Watch the Throne concert in November, which was visually stunning (but so loud all the subtle stuff got drowned out). Credit for discovery: SG.
5. Fleet Foxes. The Helplessness Blues is not quite as good as their first album, but still great. Let's have a song from the first album: Your Protector. There is a blend of foreboding and hopefulness in this song that intrigues me--what is it that evokes those two feelings? My brother, a music professor, gave me a music theory tutorial on this song earlier in the year. I'm always struck, though, by the "explanatory gap" that always seem to separate what you can say about music and how it's experienced. Dear Fleet Foxes, please come to Dallas. Credit for discovery: DB.
6. The Rolling Stones. One of the great obsessions of my youth was the album Beggar's Banquet. I can't hear the song Salt of the Earth too many times. Great things about this song: the raw, acoustic guitar and piano, the drum beat, the way the voice is Keith Richards at first and then switches to the prettier Mick Jagger (at :35). The pause and key change at 1:06. The drumming at 1:20 and on. And on and on. My appreciation for the Rolling Stones was deepened a lot this year by reading Keith Richards' book Life (2010)- a great thing on every front (musicology, gossip, brilliant writing). Credit for discovery: JK.
7. Bon Iver. A growing obsession. Holocene. Justin Vernon sings like he has a secret, and he's not sure he wants to share it. At first that seemed bad, but very quickly it started to seem good!
8. Everything else. Thanks to all the "best of 2011" lists that have come out lately, the musical fare in my house (and car) has been extremely varied and eclectic lately. Wow, I love The Shins: try to listen to Young Pilgrims and not instantly fall in love with it. While driving across country we listened to PJ Harvey, Let English Shake, many times--first song here. Don't hate me (if you're a hardcore hipster), but Adele is pretty terrific: Rolling in the Deep, two thumbs up. St. Vincent ... Wild Flag ... hmm. Maybe I have to listen a few more times.
9. Eveyone else's lists. My colleague Robert Howell has a nice list here, with music videos, and I plan on listening to everything. Rolling Stone has a very eclectic list (Brittany Spears is in the top 10 along with Wild Flag, Wilco, Fleet Foxes, Kanye/Jay-Z and Adele). Uncut's top 50 list is weirdly narrow--why no hip-hop? Same goes for Pitchfork. Jon Pareles of the NYT is pleasingly eclectic in his tastes.
10. What about women? I'm appalled by my male-dominated list. Yes, I love Regine of Arcade Fire, and PJ Harvey's up there in itme #8, but I used to listen to a lot more women: Joni Mitchell, Buffy St. Marie, Laura Nyro, Robin Holcomb, Grace Slick, The Indigo Girls, The Dixie Chicks, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Billie Holiday. Resolution: listen to more women in 2012, but who?
(picture from here)