December 14, 2012

The Best Albums of 2012

25. The Staves - Dead and Born and Grown

The Staves-"The Motherlode"
This album is a simple display of how far solid songwriting and three beautiful voices will get you. Quite far it turns out. The British gals have been opening up for Bon Iver in Europe and making waves with their gorgeous, stripped down live show. Their debut album fleshes their sound out, but doesn't over do it, maintaining focus on the pristine harmonies and the rustic, woodsy guitar lines. 

24. Nas - Life is Good

It is not often that a rapper mentions his own divorcee in a remotely positive light. Nas, however, confronts the subject head on, presenting his ex-wife's wedding dress on the cover of his new album and lyrically dedicating the record to her. In doing so, he weaves a deeply personal account of his life, touching on subjects from his daughter to his love life, but most of all, his thoughtful introspection. Plus, this might be one of the last albums to feature vocals from the late Amy Winehouse. 

23. Jack White - Blunderbuss

Jack White-"Sixteen Saltines"
Jack White has always kept his name shrouded behind the name of a group. Whether it was the White Stripes, the Dead Weather, or the Raconteurs, White was always in creative control. But now, with this album he boldly stepped out on his own, labeling it with only his name. Hey, if I made this album I would damn well want credit too! He somehow made an album that would not have fit with any of his previous projects, but still sounds undeniably like a Jack White record. His trademark wobbly voice and bluesy licks keep it familiar but there is a tenderness and openness here that was hidden on his previous work. 

22. Baroness - Yellow & Green

Baroness-"Take My Bones Away"
This enormous double album sounds even bigger than it is. The sludge metal band lightens things up a bit and continues to evade simple classification on their third full length. The heaviness is still there, arguably even more so, but so is a new variety and experimentation the group has only leaned towards until now. They dove right into a giant genre-less void and it brought them huge success, and the catchiest, most exciting metal album of the year. 

21. Grizzly Bear - Shields

Grizzly Bear-"Speak In Rounds"
After Veckatimest made me a fan, I always categorized Grizzly Bear as sleepy indie rock that to me, got a little tiresome. The the band read my mind and released Shields. Right off the bat, the pace is more lively and everything is louder. There isn't a standout 'single' kind of track like "Two Weeks" was, but that only helps this album feel cohesive. The group retains their slightly ambient bend, but they trade sleepy ambience for a more tense, excited tone. 

20. Delta Rae - Carry The Fire

Delta Rae-"Morning Comes"
"Gospel stomp". Those two words introduced me to Delta Rae and brought the huge "Bottom of the River" to my ears. While that classification does a pretty good job, there is a lot more to their sound. There is part Southern twang, four phenomenal voices (three of them are related), and even a little musical-like spectacle added to the original formula. The singers take turns and hit with enormous harmonies. The songs are frightfully catchy, and are written to be big. Luckily, on their debut album they really pull it off. 

19. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar

First Aid Kit-"King Of The World"
Considering the Söderberg sisters were born in Sweden, they sure know a lot about Americana. Over calm acoustic guitars with a touch of twang, the ladies pay homage to their idols and do so in spectacular fashion. Gorgeous Scandinavian space and minimalism entwined with rootsy campfire moods. Did I mention Conor Oberst makes a cameo?

18. Field Report - Field Report

Field Report-"Taking Alcatraz"
It seems as if Chris Porterfield had a lot riding on this album. The former bandmate of Justin Vernon does not want to be known as just that. Luckily with this collection of rustic tracks he sets himself apart while sounding just similar enough to attract some similar fans. He has managed to make his own brand of Midwestern folk, sounding equally new and familiar at the same time. All with beautiful melodies, harmonies, and arrangements. 

17. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

Michael Kiwanuka-"Home Again"
Named the BBC's Sound of 2013, Mr. Kiwanuka continues this year's trend for containing awesome new voices. His soulful croon caught the attention of Adele, who had him open for her on her British tour, and now it's popping up everywhere. This album is amazingly calming while remaining sophisticated and neither too poppy or tacky like many soul singers can be.

16. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan

Dirty Projectors-"Gun Has No Trigger"
Dirty Projectors have always made sophisticated, complex, and challenging music. Not to say it isn't rewarding, but it often keeps many potential fans at arms length. With their latest, David Longstreath gave up on trying to make things difficult; he just pounded out some of the most straightforward and fantastic songs of his career. 

15. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

Frank Ocean-"Thinkin Bout You"
Without a doubt, this album was the most publicized and controversial album on this list. With his coming out letter released only days before the album dropped, Ocean instantly became the poster boy for gay rights among the neo-R&B crowd. Good thing his music is awesome too! The amazing, poetic abilities displayed on this record are the same that are visible in his letter and are what made his admission of love touching and heartfelt as opposed to a publicity stunt. 

14. Ellie Goulding - Halcyon

Ellie Goulding-"My Blood"
Her first album catapulted her to the top of the pop world, and she didn't let it get to her head. Instead of a boring recycle of her first record, she really evolved as an artist, opening herself up more and creating a record that is darker, deeper, and more emotional than her last. All of this without sacrificing an ounce of catchy likability. Well done, Ellie. 

13. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city

Kendrick Lamar-"Backseat Freestyle"
When Dr. Dre tells you he found the next big thing in hip-hop, he's probably right. His latest protege, and his most publicized since Eminem, shattered everyone's already high expectation with this album. Critics are already debating whether or not they can call this a classic album yet. Sure ya can! Lamar, with his 'from the streets but not of the streets' attitude gives a previously unheard perspective from the sidelines of his home of Compton. This is an important record, and aside from all the analysis on its impact, it is the best soundtrack of the year for a chill hangout. Dr. Dre is right on the money. 

12. Town Hall - Roots & Bells

Town Hall-"Mary A. Longden"
While the best word to describe this New York trio's debut is charming, they are not simple like the word connotes. The instrumentation is creative, the lyrics are honest and touching, and the vocals are fresh (male/female harmonies again). This is one of those debuts that really makes you wonder why there guys aren't known around the country. I'm not sure, but I don't think I will have to wonder for too long. 

11. Milo Greene - Milo Greene

Milo Greene-"Cutty Love"
Milo Greene isn't a real person, but the beautiful indie folk that bears his name is as real as it gets. One of the most exciting debuts of the year is a cinematic experience that, while having powerful singles, feels like a cohesive work of art. One of the most surprising things about this group is their lack of a frontman. Instead, four of them share vocal duties and switch instruments all the time, creating an evolving focus that never weakens. 

10. Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls

Alabama Shakes-"I Ain't The Same"
Frontwoman Brittany Howard has been one of the hottest new things in the music world for a while now. After she wowed crowds with her enormous howl, this album was one of the most anticipated of the year. Thanks to a backing band that sound like it has been playing together for 20 years, Howard's vocals are in good hands, resulting in a killer set of tight, fun, bluesy tracks. 

9. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - The Heist

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis-"Ten Thousand Hours"
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are sweeping the nation fast. Not only are they doing it completely independent of a record label, but they are also doing it with a powerful message of honesty, love, tolerance, and party. Macklemore, as much as any other MC is able to put all parts of his personality on display, from deal-hunting hipster ("Thrift Shop") to social activist ("Same Love") to recovering addict ("Starting Over"). The most important thing in his eyes is honesty and that is one of the reasons this was the best rap album of the year. Unfortunately Ryan Lewis's production often gets snubbed a mention in reviews because of Macklemore's incredible lyricism, but not here. Without the perfect musical half to complete the duo, I wouldn't be writing this here. Lewis is able to translate Macklemore's thoughts perfectly into music and he even goes farther, saying something of his own in the beats. 

8. Dry The River - Shallow Bed

Dry The River-"History Book"
This is my dark horse album of the year. At first I let it slip by after a few listens as being a fairly good folk album with interesting heavier influences. but after I saw them live at Sasquatch, I kept coming back to their album, realizing more and more every time how I had completely missed something awesome the first time around. They combine baroque and folk influences with heavier rock ones to create something quite powerful and a seriously great listen. 

7. Of Monsters And Men - My Head Is An Animal

Of Monsters And Men-"Dirty Paws"
Arcade Fire, whether they know about it or not, has a long lost cousin in Of Monsters and Men. The Icelandic group pops out cheery anthems like it's nothing and looks adorable the whole time. The sweet male/female harmonies (I can never resist those) and sing along choruses have captivated audiences all around the world led by the ridiculously perfect summer jam "Little Talks." This album is made of singles and could use a tad more variety, but I'm perfectly content to wait for album #2 for that. 

6. Bahamas - Barchords

Bahamas-"Lost In The Light"
I would not expect the songs on this record to be stuck in my head for weeks at a time, but alas, Afie Jurvanen has found a way to make sure it happens. The Canadian guitarist has one of the smoothest voices I've ever heard and his music (perhaps influenced by his Scandinavian heritage) is sparse, simple, and delightful. Accompanied by two wonderful backup singers, Jurvanen tells tales of love while showing off quick guitar licks but carefully not overusing his obvious skills. He has one of the most exciting new sounds in music and I would be surprised if people didn't start catching on more. 

5. Purity Ring - Shrines

Purity Ring's music is dark, trippy, and frighteningly catchy. On Shrines, the Canadian duo creates the sonic landscape of a new, unexplored world. The synths simultaneously hover high above you and punch you in the gut. Megan James's sweet voice adds a sense of childlike wonder to the strange alien world the music occupies. Her voice leads you down the rabbit hole and never lets you out, hypnotizing you until you are lost in an odd state of fright and amazement. 

Rarely does a band's name speak as perfectly to the sounds of the music as Cold Specks does. The voice of Al Spx paired with her minimalist instrumentation feels cold, but in a crisp, wintry way. Her songs chill your bones but keep you cozy at the same time with how peaceful they sound. Her voice sounds worn and wise enough to be able to teach some lessons. Luckily the songwriting is easily strong enough to back up the gem that is her voice. 

3. Bowerbirds - The Clearing

Bowerbirds-"In The Yard"
This is the album that finally realized every ounce of potential Bowerbirds had been accumulating for the last few years. From the start, "Tuck The Darkness In" reveals that the duo let loose this time, not being afraid to let things build into beautiful climactic chaos. They hunkered down and wrote this album while building themselves a cabin in the woods so it makes sense that every track feels full, lush, and very naturally grown. 

2. The Lumineers - The Lumineers

The Lumineers were born from pain and you sure can hear that in Wesley Schultz's voice. This year the  Denver, Colorado group rose to the top of the twangy, hoe-down inspiring, folky heap. But unlike so many of the others (I'm looking at you Mumford) they don't try and have a party in every track. The range of this record, along with incredible songwriting, heart-wrenching lyrics, and some good old-rollicking fun help set this one apart from the pack. "Ho Hey" was the track that really pushed these guys forward, but "The Dead Sea" had the line that stuck with me the most: "You told me I was like the Dead Sea / You'll never sink when you are with me." Listening to this album, I'm really starting to believe him. 

1. Delta Spirit - Delta Spirit

Dirty, fast, mean, and hell of a lot fun is what rock 'n' roll should be, and that is exactly what this album is. While this isn't the San Diego group's debut album, they opted to give it their own name because they claimed to have found the sound they had been striving towards as a band. They got our expectations really high from that statement and they still blew me away. Without a weak track, this record has just the right amount of twang, and a whole lot of Matt Vasquez's gritty howl. Pop this one in your car stereo and you'll never want to stop driving. 

December 12, 2012

The Best Songs of 2012

I have never made a 'Best Songs of the Year' list before. They always seemed a bit too specific and arbitrary, putting a grade on something that wasn't even meant to be ingested alone. But this year I gave in. I felt that there were too many tracks that deserved individual attention for me not to. So here it is: The 25 songs that really sunk in, gave me chills, and ran around in my head for weeks. Enjoy.

1. Milo Greene-"1957"
The first song released by the indie-folkers turned out to be the best on the album, and the best of the year. Lush vocal harmonies, huge crescendos, and a lively catchy chorus combine to form the perfect indie jam that just takes you away.

2. Tyler Lyle-"When I Say That I Love You"
There are a few songs in the world that give me shivers every time I hear them. This bittersweet ode to the changing nature of love is one of them.

3. Bowerbirds-"Tuck The Darkness In"
On their new album, Bowerbirds hit their stride and let things get heavy. The first track demonstrates the change perfectly and is surprisingly infectious.

4. The Lumineers-"Flowers In Your Hair"
This brief jangling intro to one of the best rookies of the year has some killer lines like "It takes a boy to live. It takes a man to pretend he was there."

5. Yellow Ostrich-"Marathon Runner"
The music of Yellow Ostrich is filled with childlike wonder and simplicity. This standout track tells quite a tale of giving up on dreams and running without knowing why.

6. First Ait Kit-"Emmylou"
While the two sisters in First Aid Kit were born in Sweden, they were clearly raised on Americana. They harmonize flawlessly about their American musical heroes while forging a path into the music scene they revere.

7. Field Report-"Fergus Falls"
The former bandmate of Justin Vernon has been trying to come into his own and be seen as a great songwriter in his own right. This poetic track will show you how he succeeded.

8. Haim-"Forever"
Three L.A. sisters have revived the old folk scene of their hometown with influences like Fleetwood Mac and the joy of summer. Yet they infuse a modern, R&B style into it all, keeping things awfully interesting.

9. C2C-"Down The Road"
If you can listen to this track without feeling the urge to move, there has got to be something wrong. The four French world-champion DJ's that make up C2C have begun releasing original music, and they gave us the funkiest track of the year.

10. The Shins-"Simple Song"
Over the years, The Shins have released quite a few catchy indie-pop anthems. While most of their recent album left me underwhelmed, this first single is one of their most fun, energizing and anthemic songs yet.

December 10, 2012

Bands To Watch In 2013

Like every year of my life, I paid closer attention to the music world this year than the last. Through work with CMJ and Songza, more up and coming bands than ever before have caught my attention. These are the groups that I believe will really make an impact in 2013. If you want to stay on top of your game, I highly suggest checking these groups out.

Hey Marseilles

Hey Marseilles-"To Travels & Trunks"
Their first album, To Travels and Trunks, demonstrated their unique brand of orchestral folk-pop that could make anyone smile. They will be releasing their new album, Lines We Trace in March and I'm betting on a hit. Download their recent Fuel/Friends Chapel Session here.

Two Trees

Two Trees-"Lay Me Down"
This Swedish couple has been a recent hit on SoundCloud with their soothing and stunning harmonies, paired with beautiful guitar work and memorable songwriting. 

Different Sleep

Different Sleep-"Next Time I See You"
The strongest link in the Svengali group of chill producers, this Chicago/San Diego based youngster is making waves. Really relaxing, envelope your body in a blanket of calm kind of waves. He recently had a remix released by Hundred Waters and is a frequent collaborator with Mister Lies. This whole movement is getting a lot of buzz and Different Sleep is first in line. Download his INFINITE EP here.

James Egbert

James Egbert-"Blackhawk"
His unique melodic, yet huge dubstep sound has already been making waves on the Beatport charts, and soon enough, Mr. Egbert will be moving up the ranks on festival lineups. Check out his Blackhawk EP here.

Town Hall

Town Hall-"The Strongest Of Hands"
These three NYU students are among the most charming musicians I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and their music is just as quaint. Sweet harmonies, inventive guitar work, hilarious covers, and a seriously great album. Download their free EP of covers here.


These four French DJ's are already huge in their home country. They have now started to release original music and it is absolutely infectious, leading me to expect their imminent worldwide takeover. Check out their tracks here.

Conner Youngblood

Conner Youngblood-"Proportions"
This Texas-based singer/songwriter has been one of my favorite new artists this year with his hypnotic voice, genre-bending experimentation and ponder-worthy lyrics. Lots of solid stuff. Download his latest Sketches Pt. 2 here.


Haim-"Don't Save Me"
These three L.A. sisters have already been making huge waves with their mix of R&B, folk, and soul. They've already opened for Mumford & Sons and Florence & The Machine and will release their debut album next year. I can safely say I'm not the only one who's eager for it.

Seattle Hip-Hop

With Macklemore's popularity skyrocketing this year, attention will paid to his hometown and the door is open wide for more MCs from the Northwest to start making inroads nationwide. Who will be next? Grynch? Sol? Finally Blue Scholars? I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Angel Haze

Angel Haze-"Werkin' Girls"
She has already been hailed as the next big female rapper and I believe it. Her tough attitude and lightning-fast wordplay separate her from the pack instantly. She recently signed with Universal and will be dropping her debut full-length in 2013. Until then, download her stellar mixtapes Reservation and Classick

Miriam Bryant

Miriam Bryant-"Finders, Keepers"
The Swedish singer has already been compared to Adele and has a huge radio hit in Scandinavia. She is slowly prepping more material for a debut album and is looking to conquer the rest of Europe and the States with her huge, sultry voice.

December 07, 2012

The Best Remixes of 2012

A good remix not only puts an interesting spin on another's work; it also is a solid song in its own right.  With remixes as plentiful as ever, it is impossible to ignore them. Therefore we have decided to let you in on our favorite remixes of the year. Here are the remixed tracks that stuck in our heads for days, and made something good into something great. These aren't just songs with dubstep womps thrown in; they are tasteful renditions done thoughtfully. Don't worry, there are still some huge drops! Up and comer James Egbert had a phenomenal year, being thrust into the spotlight with some of the best remixes we have heard in a while. For more, check out the Remixers of the Year. Give these tracks a spin.

Draper-"Eskimo Boy (Draper Remix)"
James Egbert–“In The Beginning (Instrumental Dubstep Remix)"
Avicii–“Next Levels (The FatRat Remix)”
Foxes–“White Coats (Xaphoon Jones In The Zone Remix)”
JMSN–“Alone (Different Sleep Remix)”
Haim–“Forever (The Knocks Remix)"
Eva Simmons–“Renegade (James Egbert Remix)”

December 05, 2012

The Best Live Shows of 2012

I went to more concerts in 2012 than in any year before. I attended a show on average every 11 days and had a hell of a lot of fun in the process. I saw acts ranging from Andy Grammer to Tech N9ne to Bassnectar in venues from The Gorge in Washington to Vega Music Hall in Denmark. I saw some of the best shows of my life. Here are my favorites. 

Bon Iver (Sasquatch Music Festival)
This show, Bon Iver's headlining spot at The Gorge, and my first time seeing the group live, changed how I see live music. The level to which the enormous band built upon the already beautiful songs was unparalleled. From the opening notes of "Perth" to the last chord of "For Emma," the entire crowd was completely enveloped in the music. Mr. Vernon's words were genuine, proclaiming his awe at the loving crowd and jaw-dropping landscape. I cannot imagine a better show. 

Glen Hansard (Le Poisson Rouge, NY)
After being a fan for years, this summer I finally caught up with Hansard's travels in New York. Instead of attending his show at the Beacon Theater, I was lucky enough to opt for the intimate 3-hour warm up the previous night. The night felt more like a casual jam session as the Irishman invited Lisa Hannigan, John Smith, K'naan, and some new friends from the audience to join him for select cuts. A barrage of delightful covers and relaxed banter helped every audience member feel like a VIP.

Delta Spirit (Paradise Rock Club, Boston)
Delta Spirit is gritty. Their brand of rock isn't clean cut and prides itself on being awesomely messy. They got wild on stage and put on the best rock show I've seen in a while. The show was timed nicely at the peak of my excitement about their brilliant new album, and they proved that their new sound worked even better live.
Read the original review here

The Lumineers (Cafe 939, Boston)
I got really lucky on this one. The tour that took The Lumineers to the intimate Cafe 939 was booked long before they blew up. The young group got the crowd stomping their feet in no time with their lively brand of folk rock. I had as much fun at this show as any before despite the fact that I was there by myself. On their next visit to Boston, they will be playing a venue 12 times as big: House of Blues.
Read the original review here

Death Cab with Magik*Magik Orchestra (Wang Theatre, Boston)
You know you've been to a great show if the performance makes you a bigger fan than you were before. When I caught Death Cab For Cutie performing with an eight person string orchestra, that is exactly what happened. The strings were arranged tastefully and while they didn't take a leading role, they enhanced every song and took the performance to a new level. Only their most recent album was recorded with the strings but even their old tracks received an added punch from their presence.

Delta Rae (Bowery Ballroom, NY)
When I heard Delta Rae's debut album, I had no idea they had four amazing singers. The voices sounded similar enough that I wrote them off as having two vocalists. But when I witnessed them live their four-part harmonies took my breath away and each member held their own as they traded off lead duties. Just plain awesome.
Read original review here

Purity Ring (Le Poisson Rouge, NY)
It is rare that I attend a show that is like no other I have been to. Purity Ring's album release show in NYC was one of those nights. They performed in the round, on a circular stage in the middle of the venue. Hanging all over the place were colored orbs that pulsated to the beat of the music. Instead of just playing their music, the duo grabbed the audience and dragged them in.
Read original review here

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (Vega, Copenhagen, Denmark)
On this list two years in a row, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are definitely some of the most consistently brilliant performers in hip-hop today. I have now seen them four times in a variety of settings and they never fail to get the crowd going. Now with a complete album to perform, they have more ways than ever to work the audience. These guys always give 110% and are more dedicated than any other act I know. Luckily, they tour like crazy so you will probably have a chance to catch them soon.

December 03, 2012

Remixers Of The Year: Adventure Club

This year, not surprisingly, was rife with remixes. And with the end of the year comes awards. So for the first time, along with our typical year-end lists, we include this award for Remixers of the Year. The Canadian duo Adventure Club blew up this year and produced the finest remixes out there for artists ranging from Thrice to Foxes while maintaining their trademark laidback dubstep sound. Their wobble enhances songs' low end punch as opposed to destroying it.

They were brought to my attention when they took James Vincent McMorrow's "We Don't Eat" to a whole new level while maintaining the singer's astounding voice and place at the forefront of the track. Since then, they have perfected their art and will continue to melt faces (in the mellowest way possible) for years to come. The best part? All their tracks are free.

Foxes - Youth (Adventure Club Dubstep Remix)
Thrice - Broken Lungs (Adventure Club Dubstep Remix)
Lullabies - Yuna (Adventure Club Remix)
James Vincent McMorrow - We Don't Eat (Adventure Club Dubstep Remix)