Fuck your ombré stairs.
Agnes Moorehead in ‘Bewitched’ - gif
Not a list I usually make, but in moving back to NYC and getting back on the subway commute I found my reading time rocket back up this year. These are five books I enjoyed immensely, although three of them were not released in 2012. In fact, the first is nearly 100 years old.
1. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (available for free Kindle download)
Only 94 years late to the party on this book. It’s been sitting on my shelf, unread, for at least five years and after I finished it I was annoyed at myself for not reading it sooner. This 1919 Pulitzer Prize winner stands the test of time. While some of the social constructs are outdated, the basic idea behind the book is hyper relevant in our times of fiscal crisis and moral uncertainty. I would recommend it to any and all readers — what impressed me most was the style of Tarkington’s prose. The man is simply a beautiful writer.
2. The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller
A fellow New Yorker whose book was released by my publisher — and yet I only heard about it when a friend loaned me a copy, swearing I’d love it. She was right, I absolutely adored it. Miller creates complex characters who drive a very simple story. An impressive fiction debut, worth picking up.
3. How The Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music by Elijah Wald
Think you know a lot about music? So do I, but every second of reading this book made me think I didn’t actually know anything at all. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. Too many music books are a straight retelling of history we already know or pontificating in the manner of mental masturbation. Wald lays out the facts of music, from the time of jazz before Prohibition and the evolution of music history — including how consumption and technology have always influenced the music industry. Especially recommended for anyone not sure what to think about the kerfuffle around streaming service revenue because the parallel fight over jukebox revenue before people had hifis in their home feels like a good thing to learn from.
4. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
A friend gave me this last Christmas and I read it early in the year. Bryson takes science and puts it in layman’s terms in a way I haven’t read since Carl Sagan. For a big paperback it’s a surprisingly quick and easy read as Bryson’s words flow nicely and the book’s conceit, explaining our evolution from nothing to life, is endlessly fascinating.
5. The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” by Alan Light
When I first heard about this book, I had a split second of doubt about there being enough here for a full book. It took about 10 seconds of walking myself through the history of “Hallelujah” to change my mind. Light handles the topic beautifully, although some of the quotes from musicians who’ve brushed up against the song feel superflous. By the mid-point of the book it becomes obvious that this song’s ascent was utterly unlikely. For any sort of music fan, this is a phenomenon worth examining.
I usually contribute my top 10 albums of the year list to several sites, listservs, emails, whathaveyou — but this year I thought it over and realized there weren’t a lot of full albums that grabbed me and shook me all night long. I’ve officially returned to the 1950s and singles culture. The world before the Beatles and their damn double LP concept albums.
And so, I give you my 14 favorite tracks of 2012.
1. Alpine “Gasoline”
Found this one in a press email from Beth Martinez at Danger Village. The woman has exceptional taste in music, in my opinion, and I listen to as much of what she sends as I can. This song was my spring into summer jam. One of the most listened of the year. Actually the most listened for me according to last.fm, behind track #3 on this list.
2. Bat For Lashes “Marilyn”
This is possibly the one thing I was in sync with Pitchfork on this year. Best New Track and Best New Album, even though reviews were mixed. This track in particular features guitar as played by Beck. I think the lyrics here really stand out as well.
3. Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe”
An expertly crafted pop song, but also (along with Kelly Clarkson) a sign that pop music in general may be moving away from EDM and back towards guitar based music. The change is welcome in my book.
4. Bobby Womack “Please Forgive My Heart”
As a Chris Brown hater, this is a controversial choice for me. All the reasons I have for insisting the public not forgive Brown can also apply to Womack’s past choices. And this song gets at the public forgiveness that Brown would never seek. It’s an amazing, heartbreaking track. Beautifully produced and deeply poignant.
5. Solange “Losing You”
2012 is the year we discovered the Solange is the new Beyonce. Never forget.
6. Fiona Apple “Werewolf”
Apple’s latest does make my albums of the year list, as one of the few examples this year of a comprehensive album and not simply a series of songs. And she continues hitting her mark with songs that are too close to the way I feel about life. We’ve both gotten older and, if not smarter, more experienced. This is my break up jam.
7. Frank Ocean “Super Rich Kids”
The best song wasn’t the single. “Sweet Life” is nice, but I love the nihilism of youth captured here. It’s like Gatsby for today with a “Real Love” sample and a dash of “Benny & the Jets.”
8. Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio “If I Didn’t Know Better”
Written by the Civil Wars (and performed in 2010 but not recorded), this song was in the first episode of ABC’s Nashville. It shot right to the top of the iTunes sales chart because the world realized it’s amazing. It’s the kind of song that casts a spell on you. T-Bone Burnett’s production is apparent on the sparse arrangement he gives the show version, paired with hesitant vocals.
9. Jessie Ware “Devotion”
Another song of longing. This one is another that would make my albums of the year list and really should have won the Mercury Prize. God I love dark longing with a healthy scoop of R&B influence.
10. Beach House “Other People”
Overall, not a great album but this song is the jam. It’s the one that always stops me in my tracks and makes me want to listen to it again. Still trying to figure out why this wasn’t a single.
11. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Only In My Dreams”
Another album that disappointed, but this song was Pink’s nod to all things pop in the very old school sense. So it makes perfect sense that this would be a favorite single.
12. HAIM “Forever”
I know, I know, I know you’re not the one to play the game.
13. Delta Rae “Bottom of the River”
Some music critics put the Band Perry on their singles list, but this is my murder ballad of choice for 2012. Related: let’s have more female-sung murder ballads.
14. Magic Wands “Aloha Moon”
Magic Wands finally release their long awaited first album and among the songs that have been kicking around since 2010 was this jam. It’s like a delicious mix of outer space and Hawaii, in a very nice way.
The Guardian: You recently said women should be able to sing about the same things as men.
KE$HA: Absolutely. Women can sing about the same things as men but we shouldn’t have to be put through such scrutiny and hellfire. Men sing about strippers, sex and drugs and it’s praised and glorified. When women sing about these things, we’re automatically demonised as sluts and drunks. It’s not true. Women can drink and get laid occasionally and it is equally as badass as if a man is doing it.
Read the rest of her interview.
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