1. The National - “Prime”
2. Major Lazer ft. Amber Coffman - “Get Free”
3. Empty Pools - “Absentees”
4. Ex-Easter Island Head - “Mallet Guitars Two Second Movement”
5. Anna Meredith - “Nautilus”
6. Foals - “Inhaler”
7. Dark Dark Dark - “How it Went Down”
8. Sibille Attar - “Alcoholics”
9. Flock of Dimes - “This is Why I Don’t Wear White”
10. Tegan and Sara - “Closer”
Albums (Spotify playlist here, links to my writing below)
1. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp [NME review]
2. Field Music - Plumb [Unpublished feature]
3. Niki and the Dove - Instinct [Pitchfork review]
4. Grizzly Bear - Shields [Pitchfork EOTY blurb]
5. Angel Olsen - Half Way Home [Pitchfork review]
6. Menomena - Moms [Pitchfork review]
7. Hot Chip - In Our Heads [NME track review of “Flutes”]
8. Matthew E. White - Big Inner [Pitchfork Honorable Mentions mention]
9. Mount Eerie - Ocean Roar
10. Islet - Illuminated People [Pitchfork review of “Entwined Pines”]
Rather than “making the personal universal,” the thing I love most about my favourite albums of 2012 is how most of them present a totally different, tangible situation very divorced from my own: vanquishing a cowardly, cruel ex-boyfriend, questioning the politics and sustainability of creating within a relatively deprived, remote place, having mad pashes in nightclubs, being adopted while your biological family and siblings are still living, recalling a life lived longer without a parent than with one, the comfort and niggles of long-term domestication, having deep-set faiths that draw from pantheism and traditional religion, the fury of a desolate landscape, the joy in creating and living when you work with disabled children who can’t express themselves physically or audibly; just outside my top 10, the sophisticated, cinematic scorn of— I think— dealing with the aftermath of your fully grown husband cheating on you with a 22-year old. Perhaps the only one that doesn’t present something that different is Shields, though that sets intimate feelings on a canyon-scale.
This year I went from working in an office to working from home, in a different, much less fraught city than I lived in before. Working from home and no longer having to deal with social situations and places that I hated, the vignettes provided by these albums keep the windows open. I realised this year that I utterly lack the ability to romanticise anything, prosaic to the core, and having been a huge fan of Bat For Lashes’ first two albums, I wonder if I would have held The Haunted Man closer if I still lived on the cold, crude fourth floor of a chipped house on one of the main roads off Elephant and Castle. When you take the bus home from work on a Friday night and long for Monday morning to come, having a musical fantasy world created in your room is a good way to distract you from worrying about burglars breaking in when all your housemates are out. I used to hate being “at home” in London, the same posters I’d had for four years peeling against new walls in a crinkled patchwork simulation of a place being mine. And now I’d mostly rather be at home than anywhere else, and that mysticism has lost its shine a bit.
The subject matter of my favourite album of 2011, Wild Beasts’ Smother, started off as a poetic abstraction for me when I first heard it around March or so, and ended the year feeling eerily prescient. Really, none of the albums on my 2012 list resonate with a particular time or place beyond knowing where or why I first heard them, and might not for a while. (When we piled all my things into a van and drove north, high above the other drivers in the van’s elevated front seats, and feeling even higher, I don’t think we listened to much new music.) My favourite band of all time became so at least a year after the record that did it for me came out, by circumstance of the lyrics colliding with whatever was going on then. Some old songs’ power leaps out late— Bill Callahan’s “America!” is about missing a land I’m not from and serving it creatively, but this year, one line divorced the context around it and tied into something specific— just as some new songs jump backward and become inextricably linked with an event that has passed. To use an example from the same record, Bill Callahan’s “Riding for the Feeling” became the song I would go to to honour the memory of the only funeral I have ever been to; the sole song played on the day being the only piece of music that I physically can’t bear hearing.
Underneath the 1000s of words I’ve written about music this year, the subtext of any effusively positive review will be: This makes me feel something, even if it’s not my own feeling and I’m marvelling at the construction of a situation that either puts me on someone’s side or makes me privy to their shame. (That doesn’t mean I dislike electronic music or drones— quite the contrary!— but it’s rare they’d appear in my top 10.) When I interviewed Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Alec Hanley Bemis for a piece on 10 years of their label, Brassland, Bryce recalled that now-Pitchfork editor Brandon Stosuy had been the first person to write about the National outside of New York City, a decade ago, describing their debut album as evidence of “the only band that makes me feel something.” That particular example is one I feel so acutely that I felt nervous when they walked on stage at 11pm on the Sunday of ATP and started playing a new song: “What if I don’t like what they come back with? What will I do?” Maybe it’s a daft, teenaged way for a supposed professional music journalist to feel. Fortunately it wasn’t a problem, as inevitably, I found a lot to love in the three brand new songs they played, one of which appears at the top of my tracks of the year list.
Perhaps strangely, it’s the only song of comfort on a list comprised of songs that, for me, deal out great tonal, musical sensation rather than lyrical balms or much to feel in that way at all. I did set a rule that I couldn’t pull any single songs from albums in my end of year list. Listen to “Nautilus” and “Inhaler” and feel unfuckwithable; “Absentees”, “Closer” and “Alcoholics” to rejoice in the company of good coves even when they’re not there; “Get Free” and “Mallet Guitars Two Second Movement” for contemplation, “How it Went Down” and “This is Why I Don’t Wear White” for a fair swoon. Tegan and Sara’s “Closer” is a bit of an exception, I suppose: I realised that I have liked this band to varying degrees for coming up to TEN YEARS. That’s probably the longest I’ve liked anything outside of say, Diane Keaton/Steve Martin films and breakfast cereal.
There are no conclusions. I can definitively stand by any critical things I wrote about this lot this year, but who’s to say how they’ll figure in the grand scheme of things.