Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

The Best of My 2012

This has been a weird year for music. When asked for my list of the best of 2012 for The Agit Reader, I honestly had trouble coming up with anything good. There was so much bad that was overplayed and infected my ears like that giant earwig in The Wrath of Kahn. While I respect Taylor Swift (seriously, ’cause also fuck Kanye) and can handle her in small doses, every single place that has a speaker can only give me large doses. So, I’ve been watching many live YouTubes of Bowie and New Order lately as an antidote.

After thinking a bit, I realized there was some really good stuff right here at home. I’ve been regaled more than once with tales of Divine Fits on Letterman and Kimmel by the guy from whom I steal all my drum licks, Sam Brown. I’ve had to pick my jaw up off the floor after watching our associate editor, Kevin Elliott, and my old guitarist, Dave Capaldi, tear through some of the best rock & roll shows I’ve ever seen in Connections, and I’ve been able to chart my pal Ryan Hand’s bubbling buzz with Tropical Popsicle on the West Coast through the internets. Of course, I’ve also watched some folks flounder and beg through Kickstarter campaigns that do nothing but make them look silly. To quote the aforementioned Hand, “When we needed money for a tour van, we moved into a trailer and sold weed, played shows and saved money. We didn’t beg.” It’s a disturbing trend that won’t go away, unfortunately, until everyone wises up. One way to afford a tour van is to write songs people want to pay for. Just sayin’. Here’s some:

Alabama Shakes, “Hold On”
While this technically came out last year, the single absolutely exploded in 2012. While this song sounds retro to some, to me it sounds fresh and new, and while this song sounds new and fresh to some, it sounds like it speaks the language of rock & roll fluently enough to teach. I don’t seek out singles like this; they just appear to me and I know they’re good. Kind of like...

Adele, “Skyfall”
Before it made me flip out in the movie theater, I heard this at work one day through the muzak. The sweeping chorus immediately caught my attention and made me think of Bond themes past like Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.” I had no idea what I was listening to, though, except that it kind of sounded like that Adele girl. I investigated, and I was right on both counts (duh). I should be Sherlock. Speaking of...

Kate Bush, “Running Up That Hill (Remix 2012)”
This was featured in the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, only we didn’t get to see it in the USA for some stupid fake reason NBC came up with. I investigated again, and I found a sprawling choreographed dance that started with dhol drummers and segued into the backing track from the 12-inch dance version I have from the ’80s. Bush’s voice sounded a little lower, but still sent shivers up my spine when paired with ultra slow motion black and white highlights from the London games. I never thought I’d be able to put this song on a best of. Sort of like...

Dinosaur Jr, “Severed Lips”
From the live in 1987 record, Chocomel Daze, this isn’t exactly a single, but holy christ I wish I had a 12-inch with this completely screwed, Quaaluded version of “Severed Lips” on one side and “Running Up That Hill” on the other. I listened to both probably six times a week each in 2012.

Dirty Three, Toward the Low Sun
This album didn’t make much of an impact on me at first—unlike every other record they’d put out where I couldn’t pry it from my turntable until I’d memorized every movement. Then I actually talked to Warren Ellis on the phone. I talked to Warren Ellis on the phone. I talked to Warren Ellis on the phone. He gave me advice and recommended some records and books—when I talked to him on the phone. Like an old buddy. Then I realized I was listening to the new one way too politely because I was worried about the neighbors. Fuck the neighbors.

Swans, The Seer
This record is another good way to destroy the neighbors. While trying to clean the apartment, we put this one on. Nothing got done and we ended up bickering because when one of us needed to say something to the other person, they’d get shushed because the other person was too entranced by Gira and company. This was obviously the wrong way to listen to the record. We blew off cleaning and just cranked it up so the bass would shake the dust to the floor then incinerate everything.

Ty Segall, Twins
Ty Segall had too much to do this year, once again, and the best of it was Twins. More and more he turns into the better parts of The Beatles and has that something else I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe.

Dan Melchior, Backwards Path
The Walkmen, Heaven
Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light

These are three records that offer great rewards at first listen, but have underlying currents that will only open up by putting them aside and revisiting them later. These are the types of records I cherish, and I can’t believe three of them came out the same year.

Six Organs of Admittance, Ascent
Six Organs of Admittance is usually a band I associate with Sunday afternoons with the windows open, but Ascent has proven to be a Saturday night heshfest with the windows rolled up so the cops can’t see the smoke.

Wild Nothing, Nowhere
Wild Nothing turned in Nowhere, another notch in the bedpost of Jack Tatum’s dreamy art pop. He is not just going through the motions, but absolutely filling out every second with beauty and light from start to finish.

Connections, Private Airplane
This record seems to exist in its own little world so far. Perhaps the band has neglected promotion because they’ve been too preoccupied writing and recording another record. I have seen the future of rock & roll, and it’s from Columbus.

The Black Swans, Occasion for Song
I went back and reread my initial review of The Black Swans’ Occasion for Song. You should do the same. I don’t think I could describe it any better than that.