My Favorite Music of 2012


Martha Wainwright

The Best Tracks of 2012 in two Spotify playlists:

Volume 1: Someone Who Looks Smashing In Athletic Wear

1. Saint Etienne, “Tonight” / 2. Tanlines, “All Of Me” / 3. The Magnetic Fields, “Andrew In Drag” / 4. Diamond Rings, “Runaway Love” / 5. Stars, “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It” / 6. Jens Lekman, “Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder” / 7. Jessie Ware, “Wildest Moments” / 8. Of Monsters And Men, “Mountain Sound” / 9. Hot Chip, “Let Me Be Him” / 10. Rufus Wainwright, “Bitter Tears” / 11. Sinead O’Connor, “Queen Of Denmark” / 12. The Ting Tings, “Guggenheim” / 13. Aimee Mann, “Labrador” / 14. Imperial Teen, “Out From Inside” / 15. Miike Snow, “The Wave” / 16. Twin Shadow, “Run My Heart” / 17. Martha Wainwright, “Proserpina” / 18. Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife” / 19. A.C. Newman, “They Should Have Shut Down The Streets”

Volume 2: You Enjoy Sucking On Dreams

1. Metric, “The Void” / 2. Calexico, “Splitter” / 3. Sharon Van Etten, “Serpents” / 4. Regina Spektor, “All The Rowboat” / 5. Dr. John, “Revolution” / 6. The Gaslight Anthem, “Here Comes My Man” / 7. Deep Sea Arcade, “Girls” / 8. Keane, “On The Road” / 9. Bat For Lashes, “Laura” / 10. The xx, “Chained” / 11. Emm Gryner, “She’s Gone” / 12. Paul Brill, “Breezy” / 13. Patti Smith, “April Fool” / 14. Andrew Bird, “Lusitania” / 15. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, “Man On Fire” / 16. The Shins, “No Way Down” / 17. Ben Folds Five, “Away When You Were Here” / 18. A Fine Frenzy, “Now Is The Start” / 19. Goldfrapp, “Melancholy Sky” / 20. Field Music, “(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing” / 21. Beth Orton, “Mystery”

Top Ten Albums:

1. Jens Lekman – I KNOW WHAT LOVE ISN’T
2. Fiona Apple – THE IDLER WHEEL…
4. Hot Chip – IN OUR HEADS
5. Rufus Wainwright – OUT OF THE GAME
6. Martha Wainwright – COME HOME TO MAMA
8. Imperial Teen – FEEL THE SOUND
9. Stars – THE NORTH
10. Jessie Ware – DEVOTION

Also Recommended:

Often, I struggle to find enough worthy albums to fill out a top ten. This year, I could have easily done a top 15. Here are a few worthy candidates, along with favorite tracks in parentheses.

Far more focused than his second solo album, slightly less convincing than his first, and preferable to the last two New Pornographers records. (“They Should Have Shut Down The Streets”, “Hostages”, “You Could Get Lost Out Here”)

After seeing him perform most of this material in concert two years ago, I diagnose him with a case of Ani DiFranco Syndrome—the studio recordings can’t quite match the live renditions, but at least he cut out the filler that marred Noble Beast. (“Lusitania”, “Eyeoneye”, “Near Death Experience Experience”)

Bat For Lashes – THE HAUNTED MAN
She’s an artist in transition, still finding her voice. For all the studio wizardry on display here, she’s most effective when she places her vocals and melodies front-and-center. (“Laura”, “All Your Gold”)

Ever confident and insanely catchy, but it breaks little new ground. Nonetheless, a solid follow-up to Fantasies so competent that grumpy old man Lou Reed doesn’t even embarrass himself in a cameo. (“The Void”, “Clone”, “Breathing Underwater”)

Miike Snow – HAPPY TO YOU
A strange but not unbecoming mixture of top 40 dance music with an indie rock sensibility: martial drum rolls, house music pianos and campfire whistling never sounded so good together. (“The Wave”, “Paddling Out”, “Bavarian # 1 (Say You Will)”)

Patti Smith – BANGA
She must have got something out of her system with that awful documentary about her from a few years back (or perhaps you can just blame its director); in her stunning memoir and now this, she’s rarely projected so much lucidity and warmth. (“April Fool”, “This Is The Girl”)

Still a perpetual Hot Mess, but better that than a boring one. Easily her best since I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, “Queen of Denmark” proves her gift for interpretation hasn’t diminished. (“The Wolf Is Getting Married”, “Queen of Denmark”, “Reason With Me”)

After only a few spins, it’s now my favorite modern Christmas album and a testament to her continued relevance that the two originals are highlights. (“Tinsel and Lights”, “Joy”, “Taking Down The Tree”)


If you’ve ever seen Andrew Bird live, you can understand why anyone would want to make a film about him. A singer, songwriter and classically trained multi-instrumentalist (most notably on violin and guitar), Bird has gradually harvested a notable following over the past decade (his latest album cracked the top ten). Obvious talent notwithstanding, he doesn’t really sound like anyone else. His music is an idiosyncratic but accessible mix of jazz, folk, roots and rock while his voice (pitched somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright) is punctuated by a whole lot of violin (and nearly as much whistling). In concert, he’s even more strikingly peculiar, often using looping to build one sound on top of another until they result in a rich, multi-tracked, ever-shifting tapestry.

Following him over the course of a year, the film intercuts concert footage of Bird and his quartet with scenes of him at his family farm in bucolic rural Illinois, where he’s converted a barn into a recording studio. The former, mostly culled from a show at the beautifully ornate Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, is a terrific primer for anyone unfamiliar with Bird as it shows how comfortable and innovative he is as a performer (especially in how he continually strives to challenge himself and his band). Director Xan Aranda smartly employs split screen techniques (a la WOODSTOCK) to illustrate the flurry of activity and multifaceted nature of a typical Bird show.

The “Bird at home” stuff also captivates but in a different way.  Although the novel setting gives some insight into Bird’s background, it ultimately just emphasizes how all-encompassing music is in his life. Even in his house, he’s surrounded by a menagerie of instruments; in other times when he’s not performing, we see him scribbling lyrics in a hotel room or visiting a man who sculptures the giant phonographs Bird utilizes in his performances. We learn very little about his personal life apart from glimpses of him gardening or biking to a creek nearby his home for a swim. Since the film concludes with Bird more or less stating that music is his life, this decision makes sense, but I still would have liked more moments such as the brief one when his parents visit him backstage (and could’ve done with less endless point-of-view shots of the open road meant to suggest how much time Bird spends on it while touring). Still, ANDREW BIRD FEVER YEAR is far more than a puff piece or a concert film DVD extra; it’s clearly manna for fans but crafted well enough to easily convert new ones or at least earn respect from others. Grade: B+