Can you choose the 5 albums that define your life?
I have attempted to do just that. Bear in mind, these are not necessarily my 5 favorite albums (although a few are in the running). These are the albums that define different stages of my life through their personal impact or a just-the-right-album-at-the-right-time quality. Together, they offer a concise musical glimpse at my soul. What are yours? -Tk
THE BEACH BOYS – PET SOUNDS
The Beach Boys were the first band that I loved. I popped their live album into my Walkman on a family road trip to California in 1994 and found myself falling in love with pop and rock and harmonies in one sitting. This album stands for my childhood: simple, sunny, harmonious, drenched in nostalgia.
FIVE IRON FRENZY – QUANTITY IS JOB ONE
If the Beach Boys define my childhood, Five Iron Frenzy define my early adolescence. From age 10 – 14, I listened to nothing but Christian rock. Of all the Christian rock bands, this group was my favorite due to their zany sense of humor, blistering ska sound, and a lead singer who told me it was okay to be weird. This album, while technically an EP, stands out to me because it features some of the band’s better songs alongside, quite naturally, a song cycle about pants.
TAKING BACK SUNDAY – TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS
By the time I got to high school, I was intrigued by secular rock music. blink 182 were the first secular rock band that I got excited about, but Taking Back Sunday had the most impact. I saw them live multiple times during these years and listened to this album on repeat. When I borrowed my first car (which did not have a CD player), I placed a battery-powered Boombox in the back seat and turned “Tell All Your Friends” up loud. It was precisely what I wanted in music at the time: emotional, dark, alternative, and full of fist-pumping climaxes.
SIGUR ROS – ( )
Us high-schoolers had to grow out of emo at some point. Sigur Ros made it easy. The summer before starting college, I discovered the vast, gorgeous sounds of this Icelandic band and did not look back. This album hit me so hard that I felt compelled to light candles, lie on the floor, and listen to it when my roommate would leave town for the weekend. Its pensive and hopeful mood met me where I was at in life and it was my hands-down favorite at the time.
THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH – THE WILD HUNT
After college, I surprised myself by moving to Los Angeles. “It’s just so crazy it might work.” Well, it did work and I am still living in this beast of a city. My time here has felt like an entirely new chapter of life with new sights, new jobs, and new friends. It has been a time of independence, exploration, and feeling more comfortable in my own skin than ever before. My favorite album of this time also happens to be defined by themes of independence and exploration and also happens to be very comfortable in its own skin. It comes from my current favorite artist, The Tallest Man on Earth and has been a near-constant presence in my life since the day it was released.
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Tags: beach boys, five iron frenzy, my life in 5 albums, sigur ros, taking back sunday, tallest man on earth
hay wuz rolling sukerz? g-ferbalizhus 2012
i herd 3 songz lazt year. we plyd them at a barmits fuh for pampers. then we had a paper contezt
#theZe ar the best sonx of2012 U better hold on 2 sumthieng nice
#3 2012: We are taking the Bentley
this tun is great for partease and if yu lik to steele carz
#2 julgne book remix
u now when you want to shake urself in a club but there clozedddddd? just pley this song
#1 Well smith: gettin jiggy wit this
you feel jiggy wen this plays. diet pedro will only lis5en to this song aftr he drinkss jamba jooce
peece foolz. c u in 2013
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Greetings fellow adventurers in the realms of organized sounds. My name is Christopher Friesen (aka NuGaia), and I’m here to reveal my perspective on the most interesting releases of this year. Before I start referring you to these alien artists, I would like to tell you a bit about myself. I’m a twenty-something male out of Portland, OR; composer, musician, spiritualist with far reaching roots into Reggae, Modern Jazz, IDM, Ambient, Soul, Afro-Cuban bass playing. If you would like to learn more about me or hear my music, here is my website:
Also, if hit me up via my site’s e-mail, I’ll make sure you have a source for the music I review.
Without further delay, I want to share some music with you. I requested to do reviews for experimental music, partially because that lets me do anything, hehe, it’s all an experiment. These are not in order of most impressive, or anything of that nature, rather I tried to move through the Elements, starting with Fire, Earth, Wind then Water. Genre blending, sound design and time contorting; here we go:
Donny McCaslin – Casting for Gravity (Green Leaf Music)
This record is fantastic, my first experience with Donny, tenor sax player. From what I’ve come to understand this was quite the adventure for him as a leader pulling on influences such as Aphex Twin. The compositions are mature, and amazingly executed by the band. Hints of dub in the harmonized bass lines, and pads with familiar LFO and filter twiddling. It’s like if Joshua Redman Elastic Band and The Mars Volta had a instrumental love child. Although there are dynamic moments in the album, this is by far the most intense record of my bunch, not a lullaby by any means.
Black Radio – Robert Glasper Experiment (Blue Note)
This is a record of a bunch of jazz trained cats playing soul tunes, with a hint of modern effects. Harmonized sax solos, vocoders drenched in delay, and loads of Rhodes. A busy ensemble (technically), but they have the ears to never step on anyone’s toes. Robert has put together a fantastic band, which backs up a number of vocalists. I’d have to say my favorite track is Erykah Badu doing Afro Blue. This is a currently touring act, so don’t miss them. I got to open up for them in Portland with The Wishermen, and their live show was incredible. The way the passed around solos was really inspiring, letting individuals develop solo concepts as these elaborate segways between tunes.
Yes it Will [Strata EP]– Rafiq Bhatia (Rest Assured / Spectral Voice Recordings)
This ensemble is currently one of my favorites. Rafiq Bhatia is the guitarist and composer for the ensemble with roots in modern jazz. There’s a hint of 21st century minimalist classical influences creeping through repetitive licks with changing roots moving underneath in a Steve Reich fashion. A great example of how a band can use effects to augment the space in which the band is playing rather than the instruments themselves. A few moments of filters changing the timbres of instruments, although most of it is dry. A creative use of vocals give a very eerie feel to Open Spaces.
Another device Rafiq uses is the ability to record the same solo over itself. It’s like a hype man that gives emphasis to certain phrases. The flip side of that coin is moments where he’ll layer multiple solos over each other to build this chaotic form of forward momentum. There is a moment in Endogenous Oscillators where the band breaks into this free feeling textural sound scape and gradually boil back into time. The album is a great purchase, and the ep has one track in particular that I was drawn to, Sunshower. The compositions are extremely inspiring with a perfect blend of ups and downs.
Live – Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin (ECM)
This album is a rare treat. It’s not very often you get to see a groups development at this point in the path etched into a cd. All but the last of the tracks feature the bassist Björn who is an original member (of ten years), and then the last track is with the replacement (Thomy Jordi). The line up is six years old, and you can hear the intimate chemistry play throughout the two discs. Another quirk about the music is that Nik (from Switzerland) numbers his compositions, so you can see how new a concept is.
As for the musical observations, the genre tends to be described as Zen-Funk. The eastern mindset is noticeable in the name of the ensemble. They tastefully use dissonance to support melodies I can only describe as yearning. Consisting of minimalistic motifs as drones, twisting perceptions of time, wide dynamics, layers of retrogrades, all presented in incredibly tight grooves. They are architects, engineers of sonic landscapes for a listener to be guided through. It’s like geo-caching in the astral plane with musical maps.
Being a fan of the group for five years, this is the first live record I’ve heard. It is great to compare the studio recordings to how they allow the beast to mutate in the moment. This isn’t a single show either, so you can hear the reliability across the span of continents and years. (Tokyo, Amsterdam, Wien, Lorrach, Liepzig, Mannheim, Gateshead and Salzau, between 2009 and 2011) The last attribute I’d like to mention is that this is an acoustic ensemble; they reach these extrinsic sensations without processing the instruments. Final statement, go see them! I got to meet them in 2008, and exchanged a few emails with Nik. Really gentle giants (musically that is).
Well, that is what I have for you, music to soothe and heal. I hope you find these recordings to be as inspiring for you as they continue to be for me. Thanks for spending your time to uncover new music. Also, I would like to take a moment to thank the boys back at CKTK for allowing me to step in a talk about music. Artists are in need of support, and the world is in need of art. Keep the circle going.
Peace & Blessings
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I’ll be completely honest, most of the music I listened to in 2012 was not from 2012. I enjoyed a ton of great new (to me) music from past years, but when it came to constructing an end of year list, I drew a bit of a blank… However, after a great deal of investigating and Spotifying (if that can be used as a verb), I’ve confidently compiled a pretty solid end of year list. Some of these I just experienced in December, but that’s still technically 2012, so it counts.
As I mentioned, I listened to a lot of bands that may not have released an album this year, but I would still like to highlight certain ones since I feel they deserve the recognition. With this said, I will also be including a “Noteworthy albums I enjoyed in 2012″ list, as well as a “Bands to watch out for” list.
10. Ben Folds Five – The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
⁃When I first heard Ben Folds Five was getting back together to make an album, I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I really enjoyed a lot of their past music, but after being quite disappointed by Folds’ solo album “Way To Normal”, I wasn’t sure if he was still capable of putting a smile on my face like he did with “Rockin’ The Suburbs” and “Songs For Silverman”. Thankfully this new album, “The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind” has a refreshing blend of BFF’s “Whatever And Ever Amen” and a little bit of “Songs For Silverman”. Complete with some great, energetic piano solos and well thought out ballads, it’s nice to see that Ben Folds is still capable of arranging interesting music.
9. Future of Forestry – Young Man Follow
⁃Full of great hooks and infectious melodies, Future of Forestry seem to have a true knack for creating catchy tunes. Since I began listening them on their Travel EPs, I couldn’t help but notice that they were very good at maintaining a poppy vibe while still managing to keep each part particularly interesting and unique. “Young Man Follow” does tend to simplify things a bit compared to some of their past albums, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. This album definitely shows the great potential this band holds.
8. Good Old War – Come Back As Rain
⁃If folky acoustic goodness is your thing, you’ll definitely want to check out Good Old War’s latest release, “Come Back As Rain.” Although I wasn’t crazy about this album at first, it has certainly grown on me. I really enjoyed a lot of the elements in their first full-length, “Only Way To Be Alone” and am pleased to report that their 2012 release holds similar qualities. Catchy acoustic-driven tracks, filled with beautiful harmonies are a staple for this trio and are certain to keep your foot tapping the whole way through.
7. Hammock – Departure Songs
⁃Ambient music holds a special place in my heart. It might be the fact that it’s great to nap to, and I love napping, but I think there’s more to it than that. The expression “less is more” rings loud and clear and Hammock is a band that has perfected this idea while still keeping its music interesting. Although this double disc album does hold a lot of similarities to Hammock’s previous releases, they still seem to show some nice progression (especially in disc 2) where there is a greater use of interesting drum beats that seem to drive the songs along more-so than your typical Hammock track. Overall, for such a lengthy album, I really enjoyed it.
6. Anberlin – Vital
⁃I know many of you who are familiar with Anberlin might be thinking, “Anberlin? What happened to those guys? They haven’t pulled their weight since ‘Cities’.” Although I personally was a bigger fan of “Never Take Friendship Personal”, I do agree that they did indeed have some making up to do. With “Vital” I believe they’ve finally gotten back on track with the band that they want to be. With the epic opener entitled “Self-Starter” the album leaps out of the gate with an immense amount of energy in this very well-tuned track. Every part feels so intentional and has a great flow to it. This is the story throughout the majority of the album. Though it isn’t perfect and does have several tracks that leave something to be desired (“God, Drugs & Sex”, “Orpheum”), the good outweighs the bad. One track that I just have to give recognition is “Innocent”. As much as I love the great driving tunes that Anberlin so faithfully cranks out, I find myself repeatedly coming back to this song. There’s something about that 80′s vibe that I can’t get enough of. But overall, I feel that Vital is a great returning album for Anberlin that shouldn’t be overlooked like their last few releases.
5. Beats Antique – Contraption Vol II
⁃So, I may or may not have just stumbled upon this album today while finishing up my list, but I’m pretty sure it deserves some recognition in this years round-up. I’m a sucker for glitchy electronic music, and this has all of that, plus a lot of really great, tweaked-out organic elements. It feels like a slightly more exotic Bonobo album, with hints of Beirut and other fun middle-eastern and European sounds. It’s not often that you find those “love and first sight” albums, but “Contraption Vol II” has won my heart with it’s undeniably catchy rhythms and some very unique timbres. This album is very original and displays some incredible musicianship and versatility.
4. Lymbyc Systym – Symbolyst
⁃When I first began listening to this band about a year ago, I must say I wasn’t all that impressed. They had some fun electronic programming going on, but nothing that really caught my attention. However, there clearly was a lot of potential for a great future album. Now that Symbolyst is here, I believe they’ve finally reached their potential. This album still utilizes great drum programming, as well as refreshing string elements and unique synth sounds. Think, The Album Leaf meets The American Dollar. Ambient at times, often crescendoing into higher energy drum beats and catchy synth melodies. Jared and Mike Bell have clearly put a lot of work into this album and it shows in the end. Your gift for all of their hard work is a well polished ambient electronic album. Enjoy.
3. Zelliack – Noir Tone EP
⁃I’m a sucker for jazzy 7 chords and interesting drum grooves, so when I first checked out Zelliack’s debut EP earlier this year, I was pleasantly surprised to see both bases very well covered. These are clearly well-seasoned musicians, and despite slightly lower production quality (emphasis on slightly), it would be hard to tell this was the band/duo’s first release. That might have something to do that the fact that members Elliot Coleman (singer of Tesseract) and Zack Ordway (guitar for Sky Eats Airplanes) are highly experienced metal musicians. It seems like it would be a pretty drastic change to move from metal to alternative jazz (or whatever you want to call it), but somehow the band incorporates shredding guitar solos and operatic vocals extremely well. I won’t go into detail of every track, but I will say that each song seems to have it’s place in this EP and every note feels so intentional. It’s hard to pick a favorite off this album, but I’d say it’s a toss up between “These Hands” and “Without A Doubt”. Check this album out. You won’t regret it! And be on the lookout for this band in 2013 as they’re currently working on their debut full length. Mm mm good!
2. K Sera – “Dream Like I Do” (single) – from upcoming album.
⁃For a long time now, I’ve been a huge fan of The Dear Hunter and most of what they put out (aside from the Color Spectrum, which was slightly disappointing). That theatrical rock sound also has a special place in my heart, right next door to the ambient stuff. So naturally when I heard that Casey Crescenzo (mastermind behind TDH) would be producing K Sera’s new album, I had to take a closer look. K Sera’s previous releases were all quite great to begin with, and now, with the help of Casey, this album is sure to take off. The track “Dream Like I Do” was released late this year as sort of a teaser for the upcoming album (in January 2013). Although it is only a single track, it showcases some great musical talent, both in musicianship and production. Filled with beautiful electronic elements (Imogen Heap-like autotune on vocals at end), huge drums and powerful vocals by lead singer Mike Caswell. There’s even an 8-bit breakdown! Come on people, what more could you ask for!? Personally this is currently my most anticipated album of 2013, and based off of our preview with this single, I don’t think anyone will be going home disappointed.
Da Da D-DA!!!
1! Snarky Puppy – GroundUP
⁃I found out about this album through one of my other favorite bands, The Reign of Kindo. TROK has a very unique sound with some great jazz influences, so I knew this band had to be something special. After listening to one track, I was immediately hooked. Not only did they display incredible musicianship, but it was really easy to listen to at the same time; a similar quality to that found in The Reign of Kindo’s music. The intriguing thing about this album is how it was recorded. It’s actually a live album (though it’s hard to tell) that was recorded in a warehouse-like building in New York. The band converted it into a studio/performance space, invited probably 30-40 people and recorded the whole show. What amazes me is that the band consists of about 20 people, including a string section, horn section, percussion section as well as your standard guitars, basses, drums and keyboards. It’s really an incredible production and every song in it feels so well sculpted, filled with fascinating time signatures, stops, and solos in multiple different styles. I would certainly call this musician’s music, since there is so much to listen to. But as I stated earlier, it somehow maintains a bit of a poppy vibe that makes it fun for non-musicians as well. Styles on this album vary quite a lot, from funky pop anthems (“Thing of Gold”) to funky math rock (“Bent Nails”) to more experimental (“Mr. Montauk”) to more traditional jazz (“Like A Light” and “Young Stuff”) to New Orleans big band (“Quarter Master”) and more. The album really has a lot of great variety and highlights just about every instrument at one point or another, making it feel like a proper jazz band. This made my number one spot for a reason.
And now, here is a taste of the greatness that is Snarky Puppy:
Opening track: Thing Of Gold
Noteworthy Albums I Enjoyed in 2012:
-In no particular order:
1. K Sera – “The Cantos EP”, “The Cantos II”, “Dream Like I Do” (Single)
2. Gungor – “Ghosts Upon The Earth” and “Beautiful Things”
3. Adventure Club – misc. songs
4. Snarky Puppy – “GroundUp” and “Tell Your Friends”
5. Weaver At The Loom – “Before Now, Was Then”
6. Jeremy Larson – “They Reappear”
7. Sleeping At Last – “Yearbook”
8. Harvard (now HRVRD) – “The Inevitable And I”
9. Freelance Whales – “Weathervanes”
10. As Tall As Lions – “You Can’t Take It With You”
11. Meg & Bryan – “Back and Forth”
12. Lettuce – “Rage” and “Fly”
Finally, I leave you with this…
Bands To Watch Out For in 2013:
Although there are countless bands/musicians out there displaying unique and creative musical styles right now, I have gathered a small list of some that I personally think will shine in 2013. Enjoy!
-Again in no particular order:
1. K Sera
3. Paper Route
4. The Reign of Kindo
5. Snarky Puppy
7. Lymbyc Systym
Happy Listening everyone!
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#1) Miguel Zenon & Laurent Coq: Rayuela
An album based on a groundbreaking 1963 novel “Hopscotch” by Julio Cortazar, a book that I’ve learned is pivotal in Argentine literature, as well as in experimental literature in general. The book, from what I understand, is like a postmodern, experimental Choose-Your-Own Adventure with multiple endings, bebop-like streams-of-consciousness, and subjective involvement of the reader, and it has been described as a “counter-novel”. Whatever that means. I’ve yet to understand how the music relates to the book, as I’ve just started reading the thing and am still not sure if I’ll get through it. But the music is far more inviting than is the book. The meandering and evolving compositions sound like nothing I’ve heard before, yet somehow are interesting and rewarding to listen to, and together add up to a truly coherent experience. Miguel Zenon’s alto sax playing, as usual, somehow combines technical mastery with a downright nostaltic, romantic tone that just works. Everyone’s great on the album, and despite its ambition and density, everyone comes through crystal clear and contributes to a transcendant whole. Try “Gekrepten”, “Talita”, or “La Maga”, or this nifty EPK:
#2) Brad Mehldau Trio: Ode
Probably the world’s best young-ish jazz pianist (although I was shocked to see that he has gone completely gray since the last album), it’s no surprise that this wound up on here. He’s never released a bad or even mediocre recording, and this is up there with his best studio recordings. (By the way, for his best live album, and one of the best piano trio albums of all time, check out his 1999 release “Art of Trio, Vol. 4: Back at the Vanguard”.) The title track is, I believe, a perfect example of Brad’s greatest contribution to the format–his absolutely unprecedented ability to combine simple, almost pop melodicism with an unmatched two-handed technique. Try “Ode” to see what I mean (particularly from 3:50-4:32, the most joyous moment of the year in jazz, and landing him a Grammy nomination for best improvised solo):
#3) Pat Metheny: Unity Band
Not much to say. A powerhouse dream team band. It’s exactly what I expected it to be, which is awesome. It got a Grammy nomination. Pat collaborates for the first time with Chris Potter, my favorite living saxophonist, an absolute monster. Try “Come and See”:
#4) Johnathan Blake: 11th Hour
This album was really addictive for me. Great compositions, and a really amazing assembly of musicians with solo careers of their own. But it doesn’t feel competitive or thrown together. This album is actually a great representation of what contemporary jazz is doing these days. Try the title track:
#5) Omer Avital: Suite of the East
I don’t know what’s going on over in Israel, but in recent years, they have given us a wave on incredible jazz musicians (most notably the bassist Avishai Cohen). This is a really special album. From the opening seconds of the first song “Free Forever”, I was in love with the orchestral Israeli-jazz. If the improvisation had succeeded as well as the compositions, this would’ve been my favorite album of the year. Check out “Song for Peace” for a good representation of the style:
#6) Brad Mehldau: Where Do You Start
This is all covers, and is a companion album to “Ode”. While not as memorable as “Ode”, some may prefer it due to the familiarity of some of the songs. Sadly, Brad chose not to cover any Radiohead this time around. Try his take on Sufjan Stevens’ “Holland”:
#7) Vijay Iyer Trio: Accelerando
I’ve kept this guy at arm’s length for several years now. He’s an Indian-born pianist who combines Hindi off-kilter rhythms with traditional jazz piano, which is great in theory but it’s somehow not worked for me. I’m probably too conservative—I’d have been one of those jazz critics who rejected Thelonious Monk back in the day. Iyer came to my college and I saw him perform solo from the third row and I absolutely hated it. Anyway, I don’t if he’s changed or if I have, but I finally gave this album a chance and I have to admit, it rocks hard. Check out his “Optimism” to its dramatic ending:
#8) Ben Allison – Union Square
This one wins the award for “intimate jazz club feel”. It burns along with a quiet yet potent intensity. Every little touch is ripe with significance. Try “No Other Side”.
#9) Branford Marsalis Quartet: Four MFs Playin’ Tunes
This band has been working together for years and have incredible communication, freedom, and fun. Straight-ahead but hip and swings hard. Sadly, this one’s just not as good as most of their other stuff though—a little too subdued. God I wish this had been a live album. (To see what they’re capable of live, check this out, but maybe turn down your speakers first:)
#10) Billy Hart: All Our Reasons
A really intimate, raw group featuring great work by saxophonist Mark Turner and super-old-but-still-limber Billy Hart. I can only really recommend this to pretty hardcore jazz fans, though, as much of it’s pretty abstract, almost like they’re trying to sound bad and awkward at times, but that’s why it’s so fun. Try “Tolli’s Dance”.
Robert Glasper Experiment: Black Radio
This will likely end up being declared jazz album of the year by many. They’ve successfully combined R&B with jazz. But it’s a drag to listen to.
Kurt Rosenwinkel: Star of Jupiter
Another big, anticipated release in the world of jazz. This will be blasphemy to some, but I can’t help but think it sounds lifeless. Perhaps more listens will reveal its genius, but I don’t have the energy to listen to two hours of this. Maybe I’m too old.
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If you’re reading this post it means one of two things, either the Mayan prophecies were flat out wrong, or they simply didn’t anticipate that my contribution to CKTK’s Top 10-A-Palooza would save all mankind. As with any near-death experience, 2012 has moved us to reflect. We gaze deeply into ourselves… and by that I mean the bathroom mirror. Just before making a kissy-face, and before snapping that hot new profile pic, we contemplate the good, the bad, the ugly, the sad, the weird, the informative, and the downright awesome of the past 366 days. For some reason, we almost can’t help but to consider the past.
Now, here’s where we have a choice. We can take this newly rediscovered information and simply flush it down the John with the rest of our processed morning coffee…
We can compare everything to everything else by putting it all in numerical order, then proceed to post our selfish observations online for the world to see, examine, and disagree with. This is the route I take; and coincidently, I was the 6-year-old kid who felt the need to let everyone know that my dad was stronger than their’s (he was). As I’ve gotten older, and more mature, I’ve made zero progress, and still tend to analyze, rank, and share utterly biased information. Hence:
Matt’s Top 10 Albums of 2K12
(my list is better than yours)
10. Spirituralized- Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Last year, band leader Jason Pierce told Pitchfork that, “If I’m going to make new music now, it better be fucking good.” Soon after, he released an album that’s fucking great. Well played, Pierce. Although Sweet Heart Sweet Light has been tough for me pin down to a definite position in my list (it hovered around #6 for a while, and even climbed as high as #3 for a very short time), there’s no doubt that it belongs here somewhere. With enormous arrangements containing orchestral strings and choirs enveloping a classic-rock foundation, Spiritualized practically creates it’s own genre. The only issue I’ve got with this one is the artwork- Huh? I understand that it’s a roundabout allusion to the fact that Pierce mixed the majority of the album while existing in a doctor-prescribed, drug-induced fog, but it doesn’t seem to be an at-all accurate representation of the music. Now this is the guy who once stated that he “takes drugs to make music to take drugs to.” So really, the only difference this time is that he made music while living with a completely non-functioning liver. Good on ya, mate.
9. Chromatics- Kill for Love
The Chromatics have been through a lot. Formed in Portland, OR in 2001, only a single original member remains. With folks consistently coming and going, it’s no surprise that their sound has evolved over the years. I can only hope that the present line-up is here to stay, because Kill for Love is outstanding. Lead singer Ruth Radalet will instantly catch your attention with her cryptic vocals, while a bubbling rhythm section lays down an equally engrossing foundation. This 17-track, monster of an album is downright hypnotizing. Usually, I can’t comprehend a record with more than about 11 songs, but this one stands as a clear exception. It flows effortlessly from one track to the next, ebbing and flowing, making it possible to not be overwhelmed with it’s sheer size. If you’ve got the time, listen to Kill for Love in it’s entirety. If you’re the impatient type, do it anyway; you might learn something.
8. Tallest Man On Earth- There’s No Leaving Now
Kristian Matsson has done it again folks. His third full-length album under the “Tallest Man” moniker is, not surprisingly, incredible. He’s picked up right where he left off. And in fact, it seems like his entire discography is proof that he’s on a real-life musical journey, and he’s gracious enough to share his progress with us. For the first time, Tallest Man has made use of multi-tracking by layering guitars, strings, and drums, adding an overall fullness to the mix. He still manages to maintain his now-classic ragged emotion though. That said, he’s found his middle ground, releasing a collection of thoughtful, appealing folk songs that are more mature and balanced than what we’ve heard in the past.
7. Leonard Cohen- Old Ideas
Now here’s something unexpected: With Old Ideas,Leonard Cohen has possibly given the best vocal performance I’ve ever heard, by ANYONE… EVER. At age 77, his infamous baritone crooning is especially grumbling, leaving his mouth like boulders- and brace yourself, they’re on a crash course to your heart. Imagine how someone might sound if they’re on the verge of crying, or if the person you are closest to in life is whispering something into your ear that is meant only for you. It’s impossible NOT to believe every word.
After a 20 year-long drum machine craze (which I thought lasted about 20 years too long), Cohen has finally reverted back to the real thing. Tasteful, female background vocals nicely balance his dark tone, while sparse instrumentation fills in the gaps. Whether you’re a die-hard Cohen fan or not, this album is a true gem.
6. Ava Luna- Ice Level
What if the Dirty Projectors decided to get funky? Well, they’d be Ava Luna, of course. Ice Level boasts post-punk grooves, with indie-style detachment and soulful harmonies. This makes for an insane blend that defies all odds, and is somehow congruent. I’m a big fan of genre-defying, creative music and this album is a prime example. Tension makes for great art, and with that in mind, Ice Level will surprise you, excite you, and leave you with a smile.
5. DIIV- Oshin
It’s hot. The air is thick. The world around you is melting into a goopy puddle at your feet. It’s a good thing you live by the beach because just about the only thing that can keep you from conforming to the shape of the inside of your (non-air-conditioned) apartment, is to take a DIIV into an Oshin of rejuvenating reverb. Channeling the bests of dream-pop, kroutrock, new-wave, and shoegaze, this skilled quintet will have you cool as a clam in no time flat. Grab whichever floatation device is most convenient, I’ll meet you in the tide.
4. Tall Ships- Everything Touching
With their past EPs boasting a heavy math-rock modus operani, Tall Ships have previously been somewhat unaccessible to the masses. Their newest, and first full-length release, Everything Touching, sports a new, less unorthodox approach. It’s smart, fun, and damned exciting. Staying somewhat true to their history, the occasional odd measure or extra beat adds the element of surprise to an already enjoyable body of music. Driving percussion and repetitive guitar riffs frequently make way for gently-sung melodies with minimal accompaniment- only to explode, once again, into a vast cloud of distorted debris. This is one thrill ride of an album, and the best part is: you never have to wait in line.
3. ∆ (alt J)- An Awesome Wave
No doubts about it, An Awesome Wave is one helluva debut. It’s playful, yet mature- subtle, yet vibrant- and almost entirely unpredictable in the best ways possible. Just out of the oven, the album fills the room with whiffs of Radiohead, Depeche Mode, and Local Natives; but it only takes one bite of this piping-hot cookie to realize that the taste is uniquely (Alt-J). I like when bands don’t hold back; I appreciate when they create and play from the heart like children, and when ∆ is having fun, so am I, and so will you.
2. Tame Impala- Lonerism
If the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Caribou somehow developed the technology and produced a three-way love child, it would be jealous of Tame Impala. From the very first track “Be Above It,” band leader Kevin Parker has you tight in his grasp, wondering where he’ll take you next, and believe me, it could go anywhere from there. Every time Parker opens his mouth we’re hit over the head with wonderfully simple, catchy melodies that serve as a bridge between that nostalgic classic rock sound that many of us know and love, and the cutting-edge of today’s best. Refined, synthesized bloops and blips are fun for all, making this album stand out as an appealing collection. I’ll be first in line at Laser Impala.
And now, the moment I’ve been waiting for:
1. Kishi Bashi- 151a
During the many hours of scrupulous searching and listening, through the whirlwind of frantic typing and clicking, while being woven into a tapestry of sound and emotion, and amongst the sporadic watchings of Star Trek: TNG episodes, there’s been only one constant; 151a has topped my list since the beginning. I’m gonna be totally honest here, this album has absolutely blown me away. The production alone is breathtaking. Couple that with extraordinary songs, and we’re presented with an uplifting, inspiring, exhilarating, GENIUS (really) album. I’ve been lucky enough to listen to 151a (and all of the above wonderful music) through a 1973, pre-outsourced JVC receiver (named Gertie) who’s connected to Infinity 2500 speakers from the same era, and believe me when I say, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a better mixed, more balanced album in my life. To make sure I wasn’t just getting lucky, I BOUGHT a pair of Sony MDR-V6 headphones (which I highly recommend btw), only to still be completely astonished by the sound of this record. Now, I know what you’re thinking- that Silly Matt is overreacting (and that he has shapely calves), but if you don’t believe me, you’re more than welcome to post up on my futon, directly in front of my stereo, and have a listen for yourself.
For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t), Kishi Bashi is the solo project of Of Montreal’s ex violinist Kaoru (K.) Ishibashi. His classical and jazz roots are evident in the complex arrangements, full of beautiful strings, fat synthesizers, playful bass lines, and bright, vibrant vocals. From the very first track, you know you’re in for something special; it has a very natural, woodsy feel to it, giving the sense of being lost in forest only to run into a flurry of animals who dance and sing all the way back to your home, guiding you along the way. Every song is superb, somehow familiar, and blissfully new. You can’t help but feel happy when listening. Perhaps, a statement such as that can never fully be expressed through words; we’ve reached the point where art or music alone is left to fill the void. Have a listen, and give someone you love a hug.
Thanks to CKTK for letting me overrun their classy-ass blog
with my disgusting musings and rants. They’re a couple of stand-up gents!
***SEE YA NEXT YEAR***
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Tags: alt j, ava luna, ∆, chromatics, cktk, cohen, diiv, dirty projectors, doomsday, fleet foxes, kishi bashi, local natives, radiohead, spiritualized, sufjan stevens, tall ships, tallest man on earth, tame impala, top 10
WOW. 2012, am I right?
This year was an especially difficult one for us top album listers because there were so many great albums released. It’s a good problem to have – every Tuesday, I’d look at the list of new album releases, and it was like those lists were saying, “Happy Birthday, Dude.”
On the flip side, that also means there were quite a few records that didn’t get the time of day. C’est la vie, I suppose – it goes to show you never can tell. Have a good time with the list, and share your thoughts! As always, all album links will open in Spotify. Enjoy…
10. Stars – The North
Just when you thought they were done (after 2010′s decent but mostly disappointing “The Five Ghosts” sounded like it might be a death knell) Stars have turned around and totally redeemed themselves. This Canadian collective’s seventh studio album puts them back on the right track they forged with their classic 2004 album, “Set Yourself on Fire”. Stars aren’t breaking any especially new ground here, but they do show that they’re the masters of the chill male/female indie pop collective game. There wasn’t another record this year as simultaneously exciting and soothing as this one.
MUST HEAR: “The Theory of Relativity,” “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It,” “The North”
9. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
After the success of 2009′s “Bitte Orca,” Dave Longstreth and co. have come back with a smaller, more intimate follow-up. I absolutely loved “Bitte Orca,” and this was my most anticipated record of 2012. For the most part, they didn’t disappoint. Songs like “Offspring Are Blank” and “See What She Seeing” bring to mind some of the finer points of that record, while others like “Dance For You” and “Just For Chevron” bring intriguing new elements to the Projectors’ signature, inimitable sound.
This record drops because of one bad skip track – “Maybe That Was It,” a song that sounds like a Pink Floyd b-side being covered by a band of 11-year-old Guitar Hero players who have never held real instruments in their lives. Other than that, though, a must-listen record in a strong year. If there were some Men in Black-style method for erasing this song from everyone’s memories, this would be a top-4 record for 2012.
MUST HEAR: “About To Die,” “Dance For You,” “Gun Has No Trigger”
8. Ke$ha – Warrior
I can’t remember another 2012 album that I wanted to dance to more than this one. I hope that this record is indicative of who Ke$ha is becoming – a version of Lady Gaga who is more focused on making mindless dance-pop and less worried about being “important” (nothing against Mama Monster; this record is just so much fun). True, there are moments of overwhelming stupidity (most notably the Iggy Pop-fueled dumb sex romp “Dirty Love”), but overall, this is a record poised to be the soundtrack to the greatest end-of-the-world party ever.
MUST HEAR: “Die Young,” “Out Alive,” “Only Wanna Dance With You”
7. Mika – The Origin of Love
On 2009′s “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” Mika sounded like the boy who sleepwalked through the songwriting process. While 2007′s “Life in Cartoon Motion” was campy, poppy fun, “TBWKTM” was a lazy retread with only a couple of highlights. With “The Origin of Love,” though, Mika has refreshed his career. He’s taken his top-of-the-line Freddie Mercury impression and layered it over a new electronic soundscape. This added dimension may turn off some previous fans, but it’s a welcome change in my mind. Mika needed to do something if he didn’t want to join an underground Queen cover band, and this may have done it for the time being.
MUST HEAR: “Make You Happy,” “Stardust,” “Overrated”
6. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
Every year, we have one record that stands out as the best campfire record of the year. Whether it’s Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago,” The Tallest Man On Earth’s “The Wild Hunt,” or Bob Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks,” there always seems to be one record to encourage hearty singalongs from everyone within earshot. Usually, those records take a little while to grow on me, but this year, “The Lumineers” hit me right in the heartstrings. The arrangements on these songs are simple and catchy – primarily performed on acoustic guitars and pianos, these are the kinds of songs that you feel like have existed since the beginning of everything, but somehow, you’re also hearing them for the first time.
MUST HEAR: “Ho Hey,” “Big Parade,” “Classy Girls”
5. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
“Channel Orange” is the biggest record on this year’s list. This sprawling epic twists and turns through tracks ranging from 40 seconds to almost 10 minutes, but a few common threads persist through the whole album. Heartbreak and angst follow Ocean, but he deals with them by employing his amazingly smooth voice. Albums of this length can be exhausting, but this instant classic of modern R&B. The only question left to be answered is what Ocean will do for a follow-up.
MUST HEAR: “Pyramids,” “Pink Matter,” “Sierra Leone”
4. Regina Spektor – What We See From The Cheap Seats
I resisted Regina for a long, long time. While she’s put out several individual tracks I’ve liked (most notably “Eet,” “On The Radio,” and “Us”), her records have never held my attention the way they do for some. “What We See From The Cheap Seats,” though, bucks that trend in a big way. According to my iTunes stats, this has actually been the album I listened to 2nd most over the past year, which doesn’t surprise me. Once I turn this album on, it’s very, very difficult to turn it off.
MUST HEAR: “All The Rowboats,” “How,” “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”
3. Kishi Bashi – 151a
My biggest surprise of the year goes to this little record by K. Ishibashi, a violinist for Of Montreal and Regina Spektor. While Andrew Bird has stagnated in the violin/loop pedals/interesting arrangements game, Kishi Bashi is jumping in to fill that niche. “151a” is less a debut album and more of a soundtrack to an unwritten movie, including songs that sound like they need to be played during scenes where the main character is running through the rain (“Intro/ Pathos, Pathos”), experiencing a montage that shows him on a fun date (“Bright Whites”), or sleepily walking through a gloomy nightclub (“Wonder Woman, Wonder Me”).
MUST HEAR: “Bright Whites,” “Manchester,” “It All Began with a Burst”
2. Gotye – Making Mirrors
This record might be one of the all-time winners of the “Every Song Sounds Completely Different, but They Are Obviously All By The Same Band” category. “Somebody That I Used To Know” is a great song, but “Making Mirrors” also takes the listener on a whiplash-inducing tour of Gotye’s influences, including tracks that sound like they were co-written with Earth Wind and Fire, Jamie Lidell, U2, Paul Simon, or Yeasayer. In a way, it’s a shame that there was a big hit from this album; I think a lot of listeners will discard the record, never realizing how many standout tracks there are here. Gotye mastermind Wally de Backer fully centers this record in a combination of 1980s acoustic-pop and 2010s mainstream-indie-pop savoir-faire while somehow surpassing the sum of those parts.
MUST HEAR: “Somebody That I Used To Know” (but you’ve already heard that one), “Eyes Wide Open,” “I Feel Better”
1. fun. – Some Nights
2012 was an amazing year for music; perhaps the strongest since 2006. My Top Ten list ebbed and flowed and changed over and over as more and more great records were released. There was one constant, though. One record stood above them all since its release in February: “Some Nights,” the sophomore album by fun. While there were many, many excellent albums released throughout the year, “Some Nights” never wavered from its top spot on my list.
When I listed fun.’s debut record “Aim & Ignite” fifth in 2009, I wrote, “I can’t wait to see what comes next.” After a three-year wait, what came next was the best record of the 2010s so far. Featuring production from Jeff Bhasker (who is better known for working with Kanye West and had never worked with a rock band before), “Some Nights” has tapped into the potential you’d expect from a band formed from the wreckage of The Format, Anathallo, and Steel Train. As great as those bands and “Aim & Ignite” were, “Some Nights” blows them all away.
Despite a thread of melancholy that persists throughout the record, the one prevailing theme from “Some Nights” is, above all, a theme of hope. Nate Ruess strains to shout and hit every crazy note, but through tracks like “It Gets Better,” “Carry On,” and “We Are Young” (featuring Janelle Monae), that voice becomes a voice of calm and a voice of anticipation. Anticipation for what comes next in life, for good or ill. Nate Ruess has solidified his place in the pantheon of great rock frontmen, and no matter what happens in 2013 and beyond, I’m glad we will have this record to make the world a whole lot more… well… fun.
MUST HEAR: “Some Nights” (my song of the year), “Carry On,” “Stars”
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Tags: 2012, anathallo, dave longstreth, dirty projectors, earth wind and fire, format, frank ocean, freddie mercury, fun, gotye, iggy pop, jamie lidell, janelle monae, kanye west, ke$ha, kishi bashi, lady gaga, lumineers, men in black, mika, nate ruess, of montreal, paul simon, pink floyd, queen, regina spektor, stars, steel train, u2, wally de backer, yeasayer
Here we go. Four simple categories, 41 albums, one amazing song. This is how CK’s year-end analysis begins.
HONORABLE MENTION: Number 11 through 15 on my top ten list, in alphabetical order. These albums are given the same full review as the top ten (coming soon!). This year, you get a bonus 16th record!
WORTH NOTICING: A list of albums worth checking out, reviewed in tweets. I posted them on our occasionally-used Twitter in rapid succession, and now they’re here!
DISAPPOINTMENTS: There was a lot of great music this year. There was also a lot that should have been greater.
SONG OF THE YEAR: There isn’t always a song that represents the year in my mind, but I’m not afraid to name one if there is.
Calvin Harris – 18 Months
One of the better dance records of the year, “18 Months” includes some of Harris’ more ubiquitous jams, including “Feel So Close” and the Rihanna collaboration “We Found Love” (which was previously released on her record, “Talk That Talk”). This Scottish DJ puts a slightly gentler spin on his dance music than much of what’s hip these days, which is a refreshing change from the beat-dropping of most current dubstep and electronic artists (see “Bounce” for example). The result is a fun, enjoyable dance record that can work as either background music or party music (with the exception of a couple skip tracks).
MUST HEAR: “Feel So Close,” “Iron” (feat. Ellie Goulding), “We Found Love” (feat. Rihanna)
Matisyahu – Spark Seeker
I miss this guy, but that’s okay. This guy is still putting out some pretty good music. From the Hebrew intro to the Middle Eastern-sounding interludes and uplifting lyrics, Matis is letting us know on this record that he hasn’t let go of his spirituality (for example, on “Bal Shem Tov” he sings, “I’ve got nothing to fear cause the battle’s already been won. / This is the time of divine favor / Sublime love cuts like a razor”). This record seems more “corporate” than his others, but it is still 100% Matis. He’s fading further away from reggae, though, and some of the electronics make me wonder how this record will sound live.
MUST HEAR: “Live Like a Warrior,” “Sunshine”
Mumford & Sons – Babel
Did you like Mumford’s first album, “Sigh No More”? Then you will like this new one. I am confident. I know that because this is essentially the same album, just put into a box, shaken, and reassembled. I loved the first record, but this is a slight disappointment because listening to it is almost the exact same experience as listening to the previous record. If you still like banjos, passionate vocals, folky overtones and hopeful lyrics, this is another great record for you. I still like all of those things, so here we are!
MUST HEAR: “Lover of the Light,” “I Will Wait”
Muse – The 2nd Law
“The 2nd Law” is a record straddling the line between Muse’s straight-ahead rock past (“Absolution”) and the pseudo-concept of their previous album (“The Resistance”). As a result, you have a record that is very solid, but seems kind of halfway done. There is some experimentation happening here but most of those experiments fall flat, whether it’s having another band member take the lead vocal duties or an ill-conceived foray into dubstep. The one that does work, though, works well, as the disco-beat of “Panic Station” adds a fun dancy element to Muse’s intense Brit-rock.
MUST HEAR: “Survival,” “Madness,” “Panic Station”
SOL – Yours Truly
When a friend showed me this Seattle-based rapper’s Imogen Heap-sampling track “Paint,” I went nuts. Now, “Paint” is definitely the highlight of this record, but SOL has talent. From the grinding, building orchestral backdrop of “Stakes Still High” to the laid-back acoustic groove of “Need Your Love,” SOL traverses multiple genres. Oh, and let’s face it, you have to love an album that samples the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack (on “Falling Stars”).
MUST HEAR: “Paint,” “Stakes Still High”
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
I like thinking about seeing Sleigh Bells live. Now, I don’t know that I’d actually want to see them live because I would like to keep my sense of hearing, but their records just SCREAM for live shows. “Treats” was a solid debut, but ”Reign of Terror” is more immediately accessible and pushes the fun to a new level. What Sleigh Bells are going for is the biggest, crunchiest guitar riffs and tracks you can lose yourself in. When the guitars kick in on album opener “True Shred Guitar,” you’ll find yourself gasping for air in all the right ways.
MUST HEAR: “Comeback Kid,” “Road to Hell”
WORTH NOTICING (big list this year)
Adam Lambert – Trespassing: Disappointing sophomore effort, but some fun tracks nonetheless.
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls: Loads of talent and some crazy pipes, but drags in too many places to be higher than this.
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave: Not especially innovative, but a mesh of very creative influences. Reminds me of Yeasayer, Radiohead, The Antlers.
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra – Theatre is Evil: Theatrical? Yes. Evil? Meh. Provocative and big.
Andrew Bird – Break it Yourself: Decent, but doesn’t break any new ground for Bird. He’s in danger of becoming monotonous.
Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind: I thought I would be more excited about this, but.. meh. “Suburbs” and “Silverman” > BF5
B.o.B – Strange Clouds: Some really fun stuff here, including SOTY candidate “Where Are You (B.o.B vs Bobby Ray)” & “Both of Us” w/T. Swift.
Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball: This was a top 10 record for much of the year. A solid return for THE BOSS.
Chairlift – Something: Another decent album mostly buoyed by a great Song of the Year candidate: In this case, the stompin’ “Met Before”.
Deadmau5 – > Album Title Goes Here <: My first experience with the ‘mau5, and it’s a good one. Plus, a song based on a Bradbury story!
Geographer – Myth: A little poppy, a little mathy, this is great “making breakfast” music in the vein of Phantogram.
G.O.O.D. Music (Kanye West, et al) – Cruel Summer: A solid “crew” album, but pales in comparison to Jay and ye’s “Throne” or 2010′s “MBDTF”.
The Hives – Lex Hives: An improvement over “The Black and White Album,” but doesn’t quite recapture the magic. Still great live, though.
The Helio Sequence – Negotiations: That’s a pretty singing voice you’ve got there. Where was that on the first couple of records?
Hospitality – s/t: To be honest, I don’t remember anything about this record, but I put it on this list so it must be okay. I trust myself.
Hot Chip – In Our Heads: A return to form for this synthpop crew. How much of that form can you take, though?
Jack White – Blunderbuss: Though he has 1,000,000 projects, this is the one he attaches his own name to. ROCK for ROCKERS. Get this and ROCK
Jessica 6 – See The Light: Former members of Hercules and Love Affair are still dancing to that 90s club groove.
The Killers – Battle Born: “Sam’s Town, Part 2: Just a little step down from the original.”
Maroon 5 – Overexposed: I’m as surprised as you are, especially since this is a step down from “Hands All Over”.
Motion City Soundtrack – Go: More pop-rock goodness from MCS… but do they need to change their sound at this point?
Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal: A great album, but I feel like this record comes out three or four times every year.
Passion Pit – Gossamer: I’m not used to Passion Pit sounding melancholy. More joy would equal a greater output in my opinion.
Patrick Watson – Adventures In Your Own Backyard: Go listen to “Into Giants” right now. Go ahead, the list will be here when you get back.
Reel Big Fish – Candy Coated Fury: Furious indeed. On par with all of RBF’s post-”Cheer Up” material. Exactly what you’d expect.
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Area 52: Some new material, some old material spruced up with a live band. Still the same fun Mexican guitar tunes.
Say Anything – Anarchy, My Dear: Their first record since “…is a real boy” to really recapture The Say Anything Attitude.
The Shins – Port of Morrow: The first “Mercer solo” record doesn’t disappoint… much. Pretty much sounds like The Shins.
Titus Andronicus – Local Business: Usually, I can’t do the whole “lo-fi garage punk” thing, but I love this record for some reason.
The xx – Coexist: Another “more of the same” record. If you liked their debut, you’ll like this one!
Yeasayer – Fragrant World: Of all the Yeasayery records this year, this one was the Yeasayerest.
Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
Metric – Synthetica
Sigur Ros – Valtari
The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
SONG OF THE YEAR
fun. – Some Nights
Wow. The driving drumbeats. The “gang vocals”. The guitar squealings. The way it jumps in at a high note and successfully rides the waves to highs and lows. Nate Ruess’ voice. The electronic blips and final touches. The uneasy resolve in the lyrics. Staccato reactions seem to be the best way for me to describe this song, because that’s all my brain can process after listening to it. Strong, weary, exhausting, and emotional – everything I want in a great, epic song is here. Truly, this is an anthem for the year that was.
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Tags: 2012, adam lambert, alabama shakes, alt j, amanda palmer, amanda palmer and the grand theft orchestra, andrew bird, animal collective, antlers, b.o.b, ben folds five, bruce springsteen, calvin harris, chairlift, deadmau5, ellie goulding, fun, geographer, helio sequence, hives, hospitality, hot chip, imogen heap, jack white, jessica 6, kanye west, killers, maroon 5, matisyahu, metric, motion city soundtrack, mumford and sons, muse, nate ruess, of monsters and men, passion pit, patrick watson, queen, radiohead, reel big fish, rihanna, rodrigo y gabriela, say anything, sea and cake, seattle, shins, sigur ros, sleigh bells, sol, tallest man on earth, titus andronicus, xx, yeasayer