I’m a little bit behind the curve because of a hellish exam schedule (which you all know plenty about, since I’ve been whining about it on every platform possible) but I still have a bunch of year-end posts planned. I’ve even made a schedule:
December 23rd - My favourite albums, 5-1 (XL blurbs for the top 5)
December 24th - Listening statistics for albums and songs, ripped from Last.fm
December 26th - Year-end mailbag
December 30th - ~state of the blog~
December 31st - Some posts I’m proud of from September onward
OK, let’s kick things off with my 30 favourite songs of the year. I kept it to one per artist, which resulted in some really tough choices; I could make another list with second choice cuts and it’d be 90% as strong. But for now, this is the one true list: one-liners for 15-6, blurbs for the top 5. Let’s go:
30 - Christina Aguilera, “Let There Be Love”
29 - Chromatics, “Kill for Love”
28 - fun., “Some Nights”
27 - Cat Power, “Manhattan”
26 - DIIV, “Human”
25 - Chairlift, “I Belong in Your Arms”
24 - Kanye West, “Mercy”
23 - TNGHT, “Higher Ground”
22 - Tennis, “Origins”
21 - Nicki Minaj, “Beez in the Trap”
20 - Bruno Mars, “Treasure”
19 - Fiona Apple, “Anything We Want”
18 - Frank Ocean, “Thinkin Bout You”
17 - Grimes, “Be a Body”
16 - M.I.A., “Bad Girls”
15 - Hospitality, “Argonauts”
Heartfelt indie pop balladry at its finest; playing it in my honour at The Garrison back in May didn’t hurt either.
14 - Bat for Lashes, “Marilyn”
A chorus of haunted men, percussion that reaches for the stars, and the spookiest, prettiest bridge of the year.
13 - Ke$ha, “Wherever You Are”
Ke$ha’s sweet, bubbly side, done justice by a chorus that soars higher and higher before exploding like a piñata and raining Tootsie Roll Pops onto everyone’s heads.
12 - Todd Terje, “Inspector Norse”
Glittering, joyous dance music from one of the genre’s brightest stars, slight but lethal with a synth.
11 - Azealia Banks, “Esta Noche”
It was there every time I needed to feel confident or sexy or on my game; it’s maybe the strongest indicator that there’s life for Azealia after “212”.
10 - Disclosure, “Latch”
Short form, hyper-contemporary UK electro-pop, and the first of two I’m filing under “Please hurry up with that debut LP, thanks.”
9 - Japandroids, “The House That Heaven Built”
My shoes are still coated in black filth drummed up from the Lee’s Palace floor while jumping around to this one, and I refuse to wash them because I like looking down and feeling that way again, if only for a second.
8 - Hot Chip, “Don’t Deny Your Heart”
Nearly a decade in the game and they’re still putting out gems like this one, springier than a trampoline and warmer than a space heater.
7 - Jessie Ware, “Sweet Talk”
Purple-tinged pop-soul from a voice that quietly dominated the year, a constant and consistently beautiful presence.
6 - Rhye, “The Fall”
Sensual, silky smooth, and the second member of the “Please hurry up with that debut LP, thanks.”
5 - Miguel, “Adorn”
Taken at face value, “Adorn” is simply the year’s finest R&B single, a classic melody in a bite-sized package that captured everyone from genre-surveying dilettantes to radio programmers to the sort of fans who breathlessly pass around C-sides and lost remixes via Gmail. But this is a Miguel song, which means that in order to deign the song’s true value, we need to dive below the surface. Like many other songs on its brilliant parent album, much of the tension and drama of “Adorn” is derived from its juxtaposition of light and dark, drugs and hugs, love and hurt. It’s the sweet taste that evolves into something much more bitter and complex at the back of the tongue. Those subcutaneous bass blurts aren’t just a contemporary flourish; they serve as a counterpoint to the airy lushness of the rest of the song. They’re an acknowledgement of the lust, jealousy, and angst that are part and parcel with giving your love to someone. Miguel will let his love adorn you, but he knows what lurks a few layers below those sweet words; that knowledge informs “Adorn” and elevates it to a higher level.
4 - Sky Ferreira, “Everything Is Embarrassing”
It could have no other redeeming features, and it’d still have the year’s best title. Fortunately for listeners, “Everything Is Embarrassing” is one of the year’s pop pinnacles, spacious and grand. Dev Hynes gives every percussive splash and piano chord room to breathe and stretch, each note expanding until clipped by another one. But this song belongs to Sky, who absolutely owns the proceedings. It’s not an especially showy performance, but she hits emotional notes that are familiar to anyone who has ever given up a piece of themselves without getting it back. She walks a thin line, openly aching without sacrificing her pride. Maybe that’s the core that makes this song so memorable: even when everything is embarrassing, it’s possible to walk with your head held high and to hurt without losing even more of yourself.
3 - Solange, “Losing You”
I confess that I’ve been making jokes about Solange for years, ever since she took centre stage on the theme song for The Proud Family (“Here Comes Penny Proud”, a foundational text of my youth). She’s been Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs, she’s been Blue Ivy’s faithful nanny, she’s been Beyoncé’s vice president of shoe and hat organization. There are hundreds of Solange jokes stuffed into Facebook message histories and dumb text messages, but no longer: this is one of the best songs of the year, and more impressively, it’s a song that only she could have recorded. Even at her sweetest and most delicate, her sister cannot help but dominate the proceedings; she must always be a force of nature. She doesn’t weave herself in and out of arrangements or subvert herself, because the arrangements are just delivery vehicles for her in all her glorious Bey-ness. But if Solange is not as powerful or as bold, she is slipperier and more agile, with underrated versatility. She cracks open songs by finding their crevices and then operating from inside rather than smashing them to pieces with brute force. And so we have “Losing You”, an absolute ray of sunshine and the work of a Knowles sister who’s intimately familiar with playing a complementary role. It’s delicate and tender and funky and honest; it is wholly, absolutely Solange. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
2 - Dirty Projectors, “Impregnable Question”
Go into your living room and rip up the carpeting, take the couch and the loveseat and stuff them into your van and haul them to the dump, strip the paint off every wall, scrub the ceiling. Take your collection of tribal masks off the wall and put them in a box in the storage room, take the blinds off the windows. Sit on the floor as the sun rises and streams into the room and look around you: the bare hardwood of the floor, the white walls, the extent of the space. Get comfortable; embrace simplicity. This is what one of our best young bands does on “Impregnable Question”, the beating heart of Swing Lo Magellan. Tucked into the middle of an album defined by questions - questions about yourself, questions about the world, questions without a single easy answer - this is the one song that suggests we might find part of what we’re looking for in each other, and I cannot hear it without being crushed. Suffice it to say this one’s still at the very top of the wedding shortlist.
1 - Carly Rae Jepsen, “Turn Me Up”
I know, I know, I know. I don’t know what else to say: this song has brought me more joy than any other this year. It’s been there while running, in the shower, walking to class, flying home, flying back, celebrating my birthday; it’s always there. It makes me feel proud to be Canadian. It makes me want to share what I love about music with other people. It makes me so, so happy. And no, it’s not “Call Me Maybe”, but that’s OK. This one’s all mine.
Today was pretty hectic - moving to a new place, saying goodbye to the significant other for Christmas break - but I’ve downed a few Diet Coke and I’m ready to talk about some albums. Here’s part one of my favourite albums of the year, from honourable mentions to #6:
Azealia Banks, 1991
Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox
Cat Power, Sun
Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes
How to Dress Well, Total Loss
Lotus Plaza, Spooky Action at a Distance
Mac DeMarco, 2
Passion Pit, Gossamer
Sharon van Etten, Tramp
Tame Impala, Lonerism
Taylor Swift, Red
Ty Segall Band, Slaughterhouse
15 - Beach House, Bloom
Bloom was not a revelation. It’s not the year’s boldest album, and it’s not the year’s ambitious album, and it’s not the year’s best album, but there’s still plenty of value in what it is: a relentlessly professional, thoroughly charming pop record, and a further exploration and refinement of Beach House’s trademark sound. There’s an easy formula at work here: glossy, sticky guitar melodies + vocal grandeur (LeGrandeur?) + a keen ear for pacing and payoff = very good songs. It’s as simple as bacon + eggs + coffee = happy breakfast, and I can’t think of many higher compliments than being compared to breakfast.
14 - Damien Jurado, Maraqopa
I wrote in August that Maraqopa was one of the year’s sneakiest records, an album that always seemed to sneak into my speakers once a week, and this held true throughout the fall: the leaves turned, the wind blew, the weather grew cold, and Maraqopa stuck around, an album for all seasons. The level of craftsmanship on this record is exceedingly high, and Jurado manages to apply new spin to a genre that isn’t exactly underrepresented in the Western canon. In a year where my listening habits were dominated by pop, R&B, and hip-hop, this was one album that operated in a more traditional realm and managed to hold my attention, a testament to Jurado’s talent and execution. It deserves more praise, and the other listeners who stuck this on their year-end lists (shout out to Eric, who comes to mind first) feel like kindred spirits.
13 - Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
This year’s consensus choice for first-ballot entry into the annals of pop history still impresses after weathering oceans of press, hype, and attention. A few months later, the pronouns that launched one thousand thinkpieces have finally started to fade into the background, a positive development for these songs because it allows listeners to escape into other small details, to appreciate Ocean’s light touch with tone and upper-echelon ability to cultivate a mood. (With that said, I still ache at “boy” or “him”. I can’t help myself.) There are moments and transitions on this record that never fail to take my breath away - the sudden sweep of “Sierra Leone”, the D’Angelo-esque howls of “Sweet Life”. Even if I think it’s maybe ten minutes too long, it’s still a singular achievement, and worthy of its legend.
12 - Jessie Ware, Devotion
It seemed like Jessie Ware was omnipresent this year: a single here, a remix there, and a collaboration or cameo just when she was starting to lie low. I have a feeling that pop listeners will be feeling ripples of influence from her handful of incredible 2012 singles for a few years to come, from the airy house of “110%” to the anthem-scale “Wildest Moments” to the finest of them all, the indelible “Sweet Talk”. The centerpiece was Devotion, a vehicle for five excellent songs and other six very good ones, on which Ware consistently performed with a class and touch belying her relative inexperience. It’s easy to forget, but there’s nowhere to go from here but up: this was her debut record. The future is bright.
11 - Grizzly Bear, Shields
Shields finds Grizzly Bear completing the same sort of maneuver that their contemporaries in Beach House turned a few albums above, expanding and complicating their sound without sacrificing the essential qualities that define them as a group. This album was knottier and more gnarled than Veckatimest, the broken and worn pair of wingtips to that record’s gleaming tasseled loafers. But the creases and cracks and withered bits made the album’s moments of sheer beauty more astonishing by comparison, and when the clouds part on “Sun in Your Eyes” or the fog lifts from the woods on “What’s Wrong” it can be enough to take your breath away. A challenging, rewarding record from one of indie rock’s current standard bearers.
10 - Ke$ha, Warrior
And now for something completely different! Warrior is not the balls-to-the-wall glammy rock assault that Ke$ha may have wanted, but the end result is an album that’s mostly pure fun and totally hers, a fusion of contemporary pop sound with classic rock attitude. The opening four song run in particular, from “Warrior” to “Thinking of You”, is a thrilling vision of pop music in 2012, running the gamut from the title track’s rumbling menace to the sugary kaleidoscopic bliss of “C’mon” with one of the year’s biggest singles tucked in between. Elsewhere on the record, our heroine shows off her versatility, from full-on crushed-out bubble pop on “Wherever You Are” to the country crossover of “Wonderland” to cracked and faded ballads. It wouldn’t be possible without Ke$ha herself, who in three years has developed into a forceful, chameleonic personality who can jump from style to style, all with a bratty sneer on her face. No one is having more fun, and few are making bigger, better music.
9 - Hot Chip, In Our Heads
I made my first trip to P4kfest this summer, and while I spent most of the weekend hoping Internet acquaintances would recognize me from my selfies and lamenting American legal drinking age laws, I did venture out into the teeming masses for one set. Hot Chip played my favourite hour of the weekend, delivering hit after hit and showing off remarkable musicianship. While I made my fair share of jokes about the band’s resemblance to a bunch of cool dads, it’s impossible not to be won over by Hot Chip’s genuine warmth and love for their craft. This extends to In Our Heads, one of the year’s most underrated albums and their finest to date. Every track radiates joy and emotional depth, and the beats are undeniable too, from the giddy bounce of “Don’t Deny Your Heart” to the contentment of “Always Been Your Love”. Hot Chip walk the tightrope dividing sweetness and cheese, and they make it seem easy and natural. This is how you age gracefully.
8 - Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city
GKMC is like a novel whose passages I read over and over again, soaking in the prose and revelling in the characters. It’s probably the only album released this year that warrants an accompanying film version. There are standouts tracks, of course - the elegant Janet Jackson flip of “Poetic Justice”, the easy glide of “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”, and the boozy depths of “Swimming Pools (Drank)” - but the great majority of the time I sit down or lie in bed and digest this album as a whole. It demands and deserves nothing less than our full attention, and rewards us in kind.
7 - Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel…
I will never forget the first time I heard The Idler Wheel… It was over the summer when Matthew came to visit. I was leaving to go out somewhere shortly, but before departing he played a few songs I hadn’t heard: “Valentine”, “Left Alone”, “Anything We Want”. My reaction was instant, and horribly physical. Fiona roared and growled and tore at words like someone ripping bits of steak from a T-bone, and it made my stomach hurt, made me feel sick and weak. I wasn’t prepared to deal with the intensity and level of emotion that comes in spikes on this record. I’m still not prepared, but that’s part of why I love it. Other albums fade with time, their initial pleasures receding into a dull glow or sliding into memory. This album sticks. Fiona Apple will claw away at herself, she will show you her dark parts, and she will make you uncomfortable, but she will not fade away.
6 - Grimes, Visions
What is the sound of 2012? There’s “Call Me Maybe”, there’s “Gangnam Style”, there’s One Direction and Bieber. Those are all reasonable choices, but when I hear Visions I am hearing something that could only have been made right now, or in the very recent past. It’s the product of a singular taste, a sensibility forged by a love for elements of different sounds and cultures sniffed out and discovered by someone for whom the Internet is like another sense or another limb, inseparable from daily life. It’s accessible and confrontational and danceable and meditative and timeless and ephemeral. It’s not perfect, but no other album this year encapsulated the sound of this weird, digital world like Visions.
These are my five favourite albums of the year. They are all excellent, and I’m happy to share my feelings about them with you. Let’s go:
5 - Japandroids, Celebration Rock
I was lucky enough to enjoy a double dose of Japandroids live this summer: once in Toronto in June, and again at P4kfest about a month later. Taken together, the two shows illuminate what’s so special about this band and Celebration Rock. The festival show was proof positive of the galvanizing power of two guys bashing their instruments within an inch of their life, as thousands of fans screamed along to every word. It was a moment when the Droids’ rock posturing wasn’t posturing anymore, just an outpouring of energy from two stars. As fun as that was to witness, the Toronto show was one of the best I’ve ever attended. All of the power and energy that was present in Chicago was compressed and crushed into something superdense, like rock black matter, stuffed into a tiny, filthy room and let loose to press against the walls. It was a communal experience - pushing, jumping, sharing our physicality - but there were few enough people that I could look up and see the band three or five feet away and feel like every song was mine and mine alone. And to me, that’s Celebration Rock’s finest quality: these songs can be shared and experienced together with two people or twenty or a thousand, but there are pieces of “Younger Us” or “The House That Heaven Built” or “Adrenaline Nightshift” that you can claim as your own, tie in ribbons with your own memories, invest with meaning. I left the show and walked through the Annex wringing sweat out of my shirt, wild eyed and thirsty; I hear this album and remember the cool air on my chest and my eyes, stinging with salt, and that’s just for me.
4 - Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man
I’m in the middle of reading Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero right now, and one passage has stuck with me: “Everything is collage, even genetics. There is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border that we cross.” I think of The Haunted Man when I read those lines, an album shadowed at every corner by lovers and friends, moments and minutes. It tackles our relationships with ourselves and others and the resulting traumas unflinchingly and celebrates despite them; it occasionally aches with sexuality and in the next breath hints at a loneliness that never really goes away, even when we share all of ourselves with someone. Though its textures differ, it reminds me most of Björk’s Homogenic, because of the drama of these songs and the frankness with which it addresses the everyday sensations of being alive. I hope it’s remembered as fondly.
3 - Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream
Kaleidoscope Dream is the year’s leanest, tautest record, an album thrilling in its sexuality and stuffed with incredible musicianship. If you’re interested in sonic moments, it has them in spades: the blurting bass of “Adorn”, the brittle, shiny strumming of “Do You…”, and the lush traditionalism of “How Many Drinks”, to name several. But I would be kidding myself to suggest anything or anyone other than Miguel is the star of the show. Here, he asserts himself as today’s premier R&B vocalist, possessed of both tremendous power and versatility, a helicopter that flies at Mach 2. I’m hopelessly drawn to the way he balances seductiveness and vulnerability, how he can unplug and claim the pussy is his in a raw, oozing display of masculinity and then beg and plead for defilement in another breath. In that contrast, it’s apparent how well Miguel understands sex and the power dynamic that lies just beneath its surface, how it’s possible to vacillate wildly between asking for and giving mercy in a matter of seconds, how pleasure is mutually pursued and yet entirely individual. These are songs that understand motive forces like lust and anger and jealousy and embrace them as natural, normal elements of sex and love; Miguel’s ability to harness and channel those feelings into tense, undeniable songs resulted in one of the year’s best albums.
2 - Carly Rae Jepsen, Kiss
She didn’t have to do this. Upon achieving über-fame with THAT SONG, it would’ve been easy for Carly Rae Jepsen to pursue the lowest hanging fruit, shamelessly going after trends and forever living off the scraps of “Call Me Maybe”, maybe issuing a knockoff or two for kicks. Instead, we received Kiss, an indefatigably joyous collection of timeless pop that deserved ten or one hundred times the sales it achieved. The pleasures of this album are practically unending, from the sugar rush of the opening track to the propulsive, glittery synths of “This Kiss” and “Turn Me Up” and the house-y maneuvers of the revamped “Curiosity”. Carly herself is a consistently endearing presence, whether lovestruck or crushing out or dancing or picking up the pieces after a relationship gone wrong. At a very basic level, no other record released this year made me happier, and I don’t take that for granted.
1 - Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan
When I think about this year and the changes I saw in myself from the beginning to the end of it, it’s clear the most important period was the summer. I moved to Toronto and lived alone for the first time, commuted to work every day with fancy shoes and a tucked-in shirt, dated and danced and occasionally drank too much, took the last train home and went to brunch and flew to Chicago and slept at the beach. I came out of those four months a different person, with more self-confidence and a better sense of my abilities, and the album that largely soundtracked those months was Swing Lo Magellan. I think it was uniquely suited to the stage I found myself in, ready for a record defined by big questions about society, our connection to each other and the search for what defines us. Each song had its moment in the sun, from the bouncy fatalism of “About to Die” to the bleary morning after of “See What She Seeing”. Ultimately, I settled on three for the treasure chest: the restless, solitary search of the title track, the clear-eyed love of “Impregnable Question”, and the personal affirmation of “Dance for You”. There’s a line in that last one in particular that really sums my year up: “There is an answer / I haven’t found it / but I will keep dancin’ ‘till I do.” I spent the weekends of the most important summer of my life to date dancing it out and then listening to that song on the trek back home. I’m still carrying it, and this album, inside me.
After finishing up my “official” year-end lists, which are based entirely on gut feeling and magic brain vibes, I like to take a look at my listening stats for the year as collected by Last.fm. I think this is a good exercise for anyone who has access to listening data, even if it’s just through iTunes play counts, because it’s a chance to examine our biases as listeners and perhaps reveal the influence of the current musical climate. Were you really “astounded” by Kendrick Lamar and Future, or did you spend 40 hours listening to last year’s Cults album instead? (No shots at people who love Cults.) By doing this, we can become more aware of our own habits and deficient areas, and ultimately put more effort and focus into certain genres where there’s still plenty of room to explore.
There are plenty of imperfections in the figures below. Last.fm generally counts a track as played upon reaching half its length or upon reaching four minutes if it’s especially long, so some songs may be counted too many or too few times. As for calculated figures for the time spent listening to an album, they were calculated by taking the album’s length and dividing it by the number of tracks to obtain an average length per track, and then multiplying by the total number of plays for the album to obtain a total listening time. There are ways to calculate this more accurately, such as delving into each album’s individual listening statistics and multiplying track plays by track length before summing them up, but I’m operating under the assumption that the law of averages is mostly sufficient for keeping the numbers accurate. Additionally, there are a few albums that were listened to disproportionately while reviewing them for various outlets: in particular, the high presence of Lotus Plaza and the appearance of Zeus on this list stem from that situation. Others were boosted somewhat artificially by the presence of one or two killer singles, such as Tennis and Best Coast. With all that said, let’s get to the numbers:
Albums (total plays):
1. Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan - 767
2. Beach House, Bloom - 502
3. Lotus Plaza, Spooky Action at a Distance - 449
4. Carly Rae Jepsen, Kiss - 348
5. Japandroids, Celebration Rock - 325
6. Hot Chip, In Our Heads - 324
7. Ke$ha, Warrior - 314
8. Hospitality, Hospitality - 288
9. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange - 282
10. Taylor Swift, Red - 279
11. Grizzly Bear, Shields - 267
12. The xx, Coexist - 236
13. Mac DeMarco, 2 - 231
14. Tennis, Young and Old - 229
15. Grimes, Visions - 218
16. Damien Jurado, Maraqopa - 209
17. Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream - 208
18. Best Coast, The Only Place - 201
19. Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man - 201
20. Sharon van Etten, Tramp - 192
21. Passion Pit, Gossamer - 192
22. Jessie Ware, Devotion - 177
23. The Men, Open Your Heart - 162
24. DIIV, Oshin - 154
25. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel… - 150
26. Jens Lekman, I Know What Love Isn’t - 150
27. Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes - 148
28. Zeus, Busting Visions - 146
29. Tame Impala, Lonerism - 136
30. Sleigh Bells, Reign of Terror - 133
Looking at the figures above, I’m presenting a bit of a traditionally “indie” bias in my listening, with artists like Jens Lekman, The Men, and Sleigh Bells popping up on this list but not the qualitative list. Those three can be lumped together under the wide umbrella of “rock”, and sitting here at my desk now I can’t say any of them are some of my favourite albums of the year - I don’t know if I listened for familiarity and comfort, but I should try to allot more time to genre exploration. I’m not surprised by the huge gap between Dirty Projectors and everyone else in terms of plays, because I loved that album. Another worthy analysis to complete might be total plays vs. release date to highlight albums that made a strong late charge (off the top of my head, Ke$ha) but I didn’t have enough time this year to work on that.
Albums (listening time):
1. Beach House
2. Dirty Projectors
3. Lotus Plaza
4. Hot Chip
6. Grizzly Bear
7. Carly Rae Jepsen
9. Taylor Swift
11. Bat for Lashes
12. Frank Ocean
14. The xx
16. Damien Jurado
17. Passion Pit
19. Sharon van Etten
20. The Men
21. Jessie Ware
22. Mac DeMarco
23. Fiona Apple
24. Best Coast
25. Tame Impala
26. Jens Lekman
29. Sleigh Bells
30. Flying Lotus
Rearranging the albums by listening time doesn’t result in too many changes, save one or two huge slides down the list by Mac DeMarco and Best Coast which bumped everyone else up. It’s hard to believe I spent more time listening to Beach House than Dirty Projectors, but I guess there’s just something about that sound… I think I also threw it on while falling asleep for about three weeks, which certainly affected the results, but I have no idea how to correct for that.
Songs (total plays):
1. Dirty Projectors, “Impregnable Question” - 116
2. Tennis, “Origins” - 82
3. Japandroids, “Younger Us” - 79
4. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Turn Me Up” - 75
5. Beach House, “Other People” - 71
6. Lotus Plaza, “Jet Out of the Tundra” - 66
7. Hot Chip, “Don’t Deny Your Heart” - 64
8. Hospitality, “Argonauts” - 60
9. Lee Ranaldo, “Off the Wall” - 57
10. Azealia Banks, “Esta Noche” - 53
11. Jessie Ware, “Sweet Talk” - 42
12. Saint Etienne, “Answer Song” - 41
13. DIIV, “Human” - 40
14. Adele vs. Daft Punk, “Something About the Fire (Carlos Serrano Mix)” - 39
15. Jens Lekman, “The End of the World is Bigger Than Love” - 36
16. Bat for Lashes, “Marilyn” - 36
17. fun., “Some Nights” - 35
18. The xx, “Chained” - 35
19. Mac DeMarco, “Ode to Viceroy” - 35
20. Zeus, “Strong Mind” - 24
21. Chairlift, “I Belong in Your Arms” - 33
22. Nicki Minaj, “Come on a Cone” - 33
23. Frank Ocean, “Thinkin Bout You” - 32
24. Frankie Rose, “Gospel/Grace” - 32
25. Grizzly Bear, “Half Gate” - 32
26. Best Coast, “Up All Night” - 31
27. Passion Pit, “Constant Conversations” - 30
28. Scissor Sisters, “Baby Come Home” - 30
29. Damien Jurado, “So On, Nevada” - 29
30. Sharon van Etten, “All I Can” - 28
There isn’t anything revelatory on the songs list, save the hilarious presence of a few oddities: Lee Ranaldo, Scissor Sisters, and an Adele/Daft Punk mashup, for which I make no apologies. Another year in listening can be safely tucked into the books.
If you’re reading this, here’s hoping you had a relaxing and happy Christmas! I didn’t receive very many questions for this intended year-end mailbag, but I’m happy to answer the ones that did come in.
I don’t listen to much ~difficult~ music; the most “difficult” music I listen to usually has a hook or a pretty melody for me to latch onto, even if it’s buried under a few layers of grime or noise. I’ve steered clear of this year’s big name “difficult” releases (Swans, Scott Walker) because I have no interest in them whatsoever. Two albums I enjoyed that are much less conventional than my favourite music of the year are ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Ocean Roar by Mount Eerie, both of which are rendered semi-difficult by their length and fair shares of murky, noisy bits. Choosing them feels a bit like cheating, since the bands behind them are critically revered with looming, oft-legendary back catalogues, but they’re the only answers I have. I tend to keep things easy, I suppose.
I can’t help but link this to the above question, because in many cases “metal” and “difficult” are mutually inclusive, at least from the point of view of someone who largely traffics in the sphere of the world’s most popular music. I’m certainly not opposed to listening to more metal; I like to think of myself as having an open ear for new favourites and unfamiliar sounds, and it’s something I try to keep in mind. With that said, it probably won’t happen unless I fall in love with a gateway band that effectively blends heavier sounds and textures with hooks that can sink into my brain and stay there. I know there are a few crossover metal bands out there that could fit that role - I’m thinking of groups like Baroness and Torche and Boris - and I’ve enjoyed the odd song or two by bands like these when clicking around P4k, but I haven’t had that moment where I fall head over heels for their work just yet. A recommendation or glowing review from a trusted source could help to bridge the gap too - maybe that’ll come in the new year.
I’ve been really lucky with injuries since I started running a few years ago. Aside from a case of achilles tendinitis a few months into training for my first race and a freak injury sustained this spring when I whacked my left ankle against the wooden frame of my futon, I’ve remained injury-free, meaning no shin splints yet. I guess that renders the second question null and void. In terms of things I do to stay injury-free, it’s not much: I keep a careful eye on my pace using a GPS watch and run in fairly minimal shoes, at a midpoint between the cushioned Asics behemoths of years past and those hideous Vibram toe sleeves. It’s different for everyone, but that’s been working for me. Here’s hoping you heal up soon if you’re currently afflicted!
This year was the best year of my life to date, in large part because a few weighty personal changes made in 2011 began to pay massive dividends. I started dating for the first time, which was mostly miserable but taught me a lot about myself, yielded some funny memories, and led to me to a wonderful significant other, a hilarious, unfathomably kind best friend who happens to be super gorgeous and mutually interested. (“Before you came into my life I missed you so bad,” etc.) I spent the entire year living in parent-free zones and a significant chunk of it in Toronto, which immediately felt like a new home, even if “home” was just a smelly bedroom in one of the city’s most notorious low-income areas neighbourhoods. (Jane/Finch pride!) I kept writing and improving and had the opportunity to share cyberspace with people I really respect and admire. All of these major developments and handfuls of minor ones glommed together and shaped me into someone happier and more self-confident. I haven’t hastily penned a horribly emotional post deleted within an hour of its creation in months! I still have no idea what the future holds, but more than ever I believe I can handle it.
Focusing in on the year in writing - this is a ~blog~, after all - I think I fumbled, backspaced and flop-sweated my way closer to a distinct personal voice and style, which I’ve been working on for a while. There’s still a gap between the way I write for this Tumblr and for other websites, and I’d like to bridge that gap eventually. I’ve also been thinking about accessibility and audience, which likely stems from the bit of writing I did for larger sites like BuzzFeed. There were a few instances where someone commented or sent a message saying that I had convinced them to listen to something or had helped them to think about something in a different way, and those were my most rewarding writing moments of the year. As much as I enjoy writing for an audience of mostly other writers and die-hard listeners on Tumblr, it would be really thrilling to find a way to routinely inspire and stimulate casual listeners. I’m slowly grasping at the balance between thought-provoking, intelligent discussion and readable, inviting writing for people who don’t have 200 of this year’s albums on their computer or a few dozen bloggers in their Gchat columns. (Please note that 1) I still love you, chat crew and 2) I’m unsure of the “rules” re: adding/inviting, but I’m always on and looking for people to talk to, so go ahead and fire off an ask/reply with your details.)
Looking ahead to next year, I have a few resolutions I’m hoping to uphold. I’m continuing the search for the elusive midpoint between school, work, friends, and sleep; I think I had achieved some semblance of balance at the end of August before landing a prize-winning man and blowing up that equilibrium. I’m going to stay out of the ice cream aisle at the grocery store instead of sneaking in for a quick look and walking out with tubs of PC Loads of Chocolatey Peanut Butter Cups. I want to drink more tea and less coffee, because there have been nights where my nerves begin to snake through my fingertips and toes and I convince myself my heart is going to explode. I plan to keep working at being the best friend/boyfriend/son/sibling possible. Some of my food will come from appliances other than rice cookers and microwaves. I will occasionally eat vegetables.
I have a few writing-specific objectives too. I’d like to set a schedule for writing so that it becomes integrated into my routine, instead of just occurring when I receive random bursts of inspiration. I’m going to separate myself from creature comforts like my bed and my pillows and my blankets - the whole bedroom comfort apparatus - in the hopes of focusing on whatever I’m trying to talk about. I’ll keep my ears and mind open to new bands and perspectives. Most importantly, I want to detach myself from the Twitter/Tumblr cycles of news and agitation and negativity. As the year dragged on, there were more and more days when I found getting caught up on every social network, good piece, and awful piece (and the discussion surrounding them) exhausting, if not actually upsetting. I have a weakness, a tendency to take on the emotional weight of posts or discussions that are laden with sadness or anger. And while developing a stronger critical constitution and cultivating a distance between my own psyche and the tone of my Internet network of friends and acquaintances is probably excellent fodder for a future resolution, I’m taking short-term small steps: less wild-eyed refreshing of apps and sites, lower “followed” numbers, less attention paid.
It’s something I’ve thought a lot about: is there a way to experience the best parts of an online critical network - fulfilling friendships, thoughtful and good natured discussion, RTs and likes ;) - while also shirking the less desirable parts, the imagined stress and eternal sensation of your losing your edge? Can I have it both ways? I’m still not sure. But if forced to make a choice, I’m willing to fall out of the loop in order to maintain a positivity and general happy mood that’s a serious point of pride for me. I hope it continues to shine through.
In short, this has been a fantastic year and I hope the upward trend of the last few continues. Here’s to a healthy, happy 2013 for all of us.