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2012 Year End Best Of

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This just didn't seem like the best year for music here at The Sponge, although maybe that was just me.

This is the year i officially gave up on the giant spring break party that SxSW has become. (You can read a rant about this at the start of this review.) That's a shame, because i had a lot of fun and saw a lot of great bands there over the years, but it is now too much of a party, which is annoying. Oh well.

This was also another pretty crappy year for touring bands, and by that i mean, there weren't a whole lot of bands on tour. It seems that people still aren't confident enough in the economy to pile into a van and hope that the locals in some random town will come out to see them. Which means that us locals end up having less to do with our evenings.

It also seemed like a mediocre year for recorded music. I heard some good stuff, but very little that really "wow"-ed me. In fact, there were only two records that got me really motivated this year, and they top off my lists for both EPs and Albums, below. Everything else, while good, just didn't really get me going in the way that some records have.

  1. Parade by Everything Is Made In China.
    This Russian post-rock band continues to impress.

  2. Eyes Be Closed by Washed Out.
    Dreampop from Perry, GA. This is a spacey, fun, new wave-ish song.

  3. Chair by Big Deal.
    Two voices harmonizing as two guitars grind in a catchy melody and a toe-tapping rhythm.

  4. You Guys Are Gonna Wake Up My Mom b/w Happy by Field Mouse
    Noisy dreampop, and i love the title.

  5. Summer Dresses by R. M. Hendrix.
    Noisy shoegaze.
  1. AAVVAV by Paperfangs
    On the one hand, this is a happy little synthpop record from Finland. On the other hand, this is three kids making rich, layered music that really holds up. I cannot get enough of this EP. So when is their debut record supposed to be out?

  2. Beginner's Luck by Deku.
    Quality glitch-pop in Atlanta. Who knew?

  3. Hiding Plastic Spiders by Jeffrey BŁtzer and the Bicycle Eaters
    At the opposite end of the local spectrum from Deku is this EP of quality retro music.

  4. Cooper's Dream by Suburban Living.
    Dreampop fun.

  5. Wait Up by Bogan Via
    What first drew me into this were the happy beats and gorgeous female vocals. But there is a lot to like here.


  1. Landing by Landing
    One of my favorite bands is back with a strong release that blends drone, krautrock, synthpop, psychedelic, and pop all into one enjoyable record. I cannot stop listening to this.

  2. Life Somewhere Else by Isidore
    Steve Kilbey plus one of the guys from Remy Zero make catchy pop music. I love Kilbey's work in general, and this is a fine release from this duo.

  3. Weekends by PacifcUV
    I have been a fan of these guys for a long time, and their latest album has been well worth the wait. This is psychedelic ambient and new wave-ish dancey at the same time.

  4. Spooky Action at a Distance by Lotus Plaza
    Lockett Pundt has really grown as a musician. While i thought the first Lotus Plaza record was mediocre, his second release has become my favorite Deerhunter-related album since Microcastle. Pundt has some really catchy songs on here, and his guitarwork has never sounded fresher.

  5. Boys & Girls by Alabama Shakes
    This is bluesy and countryish, which are not normally words i use to describe things i like. However Alabama Shakes are also catchy and fun, and have produced a record that works on many levels. Plus, i love Brittany's voice!

  6. Gold Motel by Gold Motel
    This is a far more polished sounding record than their previous releases, but Greta Morgan can write a catchy tune. Plus, the band continues to grow as a unit, which has expanded the sound nicely.

  7. Riverhood by Holobody
    This is a strange album in that it blends loops and folk music into one seamless whole. I guess, in a way, that the laptop is now a folk instrument, in that everyone has one and so it is logical to use it to make music. Which, in a certain way of looking at things, means that this album is to Autechre as the Indigo Girls are to Woody Guthrie. Whoa, i just blew my own mind with an analogy... Curse you Formal Logic!

  8. Sexy But Not Happy by Museum Mouth
    Noisy, poppy, sarcastic punk fun.

  9. I Predict a Graceful Expulsion by Cold Specks
    Al Spx has one of the best new voices of 2012, and her debut record showcases her talents well. I am looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.

  10. Stranger by Balmorhea
    This is the record on which the previously orchestral post-rock act stretched out a little bit, including more rock and electro into their music. It all sounds really good together.
  1. Dead Can Dance at The Cobb Energy Center on Wednesday.5.September
    I have been a fan of this act for a long time, but i have never seen them live before. In fact, i don't think they have ever played Atlanta, as their tours keep going north of here. I am so glad that i finally got to see them. Even sitting in the upper balcony, they sounded great. The Cobb Energy Center was a great venue for this show.

  2. The Jesus and Mary Chain at The Variety Playhouse on Thursday.6.September
    And the day after seeing DCD for the first time, i went and rocked out with the Reid brothers, seeing them for the third time. It never gets old...

  3. Balmorhea at The EARL on Thursday.4.October
    So apparently parts of this show will be in the Atlanta episode of Anthony Bourdain's The Layover, and the film crew seemed to make the band a little nervous. Still their music is beautiful live.

  4. Pacific UV and Deku at The Drunken Unicorn on Friday.6.April
    The unknown opener Deku delighted, but headliner Pacific UV stole the show. If you want to see three people make dense, shoegazery pop, then go watch Pacific UV -- they do it better than almost anyone else.

  5. Cloudeater, Kebbi Williams, and Dark Room on Saturday.18.August
    Everything about this show was wonderful, from the unexpected bicycle race down Moreland, the ambient music of Dark Room, the amazing jazz set by Kebbi Williams and friends, and the unique sound of Cloudeater. Wow.

  6. Attention System; Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun; I Was Totally Destroying It; and Shawn Zuzek at The Five Spot on Friday.9.March
    This was another night where all of the acts seemed on, and i ended up having a great time listening to all of them.

  7. Computer Magic at Malverde in Austin during SxSW on Friday.16.March
    This was completely unexpected, a random act that Tracers chose that was generally near where we wanted to end up that night. The band ended up playing in complete darkness, but doing it well. I really liked their set, which came across even better than their debut EP.

  8. The Purkinje Shift at 529 on Friday.20.January
    The Purkinje Shift were one of my favorite acts of the late 1990s, and i am glad to see that they are back. This is still one of the funnest math rock bands ever.

  9. Maps and Atlases and Sister Crayon at The EARL on Friday.25.May
    We only caught the tail end of Sister Crayon's set, but it really impressed me. Then there was a forgettable middle act, then Maps and Atlases making their exquisitely complex pop. A good night overall.

  10. Tijuana Hercules at The Star Bar on Saturday.19.May
    John Forbes' long-running Tijuana Hercules project is always fun in concert. He gets up on stage in his pork pie hat and his alligator skin boots, grabs his 12-string, distorts the living hell out of it, then plays old school raucous blues music while other musicians whirl around him, trying to keep up.

I go through phases when i read a lot, and then phases when i don't. Some of the "read a lot" phases will see me reading nothing but The Dharma for months, or perhaps working my way though a half dozen space opera books, or just spending a month on the latest George R.R. Martin megabook... So my reading is irregular and weird. That said, here are my favorites from 2012:

  1. Firebird by Jack McDevitt
    McDevitt is my favorite sci-fi author right now. He does a great job of capturing a sense of wonder at the majesty of the universe, while at the same time having his characters be bored by the advanced technology that allows them to explore that wonder. In Firebird, the sixth Alex Benedict mystery, McDevitt kept me guessing until the end.

  2. Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall
    This is not for everyone: it is a zombie novel set at a Star Trek convention. It reads like it would make a fun 2 hour zombie movie. It is not deep or meaningful, but it is filled with geek humor, and zombies! I read this over a rainy weekend and enjoy it a lot.

  3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
    I had a copy of this for a long time, but had never read it. Now that i think about it, i am not sure where i got my copy -- probably a library sale or something. At any rate, i enjoyed this book. I know it gets a bad rap as being depressing, but since it is a book about a person wrestling with depression, that is kind of the point. I think that Plath did a good job with it.

  4. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
    When the movie was coming out, i read about the series and became intrigued. I got the first book and read it in a few days, then had to move on and finish all three. It is kind of formulaic, and it is written for teenagers, but this is still a fun and easy read.

  5. On Writing by Stephen King
    I am actually not that big of a Stephen King fan, but a blog i read quoted this, and i grew curious. I found the paperback cheap at a local store, and have to say that it impressed me. King knows what he is talking about here, and i found this to be informative and a good read.

  6. The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
    The follow-up, of sorts, to his excellent Shipbreaker continued to explore life in a dystopian future. He makes it all seem so believable.

  7. Redshirts by John Scalzi
    This is actually the second Star Trek related novel listed here -- so sue me! This is the story of a bunch of secondary characters who realize they are just cannon fodder on a show. A hilarious premise, and Scalzi does a good job with it. This might not appeal to everyone. If you found Galaxy Quest (which explored a similar theme) to be boring, then this is not for you.

  8. Existence by David Brin
    Brin's latest megabook is about competing meme's of interstellar communication. No, really. And it is pretty interesting.

  9. Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
    This got a good review somewhere, and i picked it up. It is a novel about straight edge kids in New York City during the early 1980s. I found it interesting, but i am always looking to read things about that time period and musical style.

  10. What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by David DiSalvo
    I am fascinated by current of neurological / behavioral studies on human nature, and this book does a good job of summing up current understanding. Of course, it will be outdated in two years as new research is done, so read it now to keep up to date.
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