Top 10 of 2012: THE DEFINITIVE LIST / What The Hell Happened?
Who's saying what
As TheVine hurtles towards 2013 and the holiday season, we've asked our critics to give us their Top 10 best music "things" from over the past year -- whatever the hell they may be and in whatever haphazard fashion they so declare.
ALL TIME TOP TEN MUSIC MOMENTS OF 2012 THE DEFINITIVE LIST YOU MUST READ
AKA I’m not even sure what the hell happened.
10. Born To Die / Paradise by Lana Del Rey
I moved to Berlin a few months back to write and to live cheap. At the time, a few friends rolled their eyes, ‘Isn’t that where Melbourne 20-somethings go to retire?’ I still don’t know the answer. I’ve been to Berghain once, mid-week. A single sip of German beer gives me a hangover. All I do all day in Berlin is alternate between sitting at my desk and standing by the window, looking at the Lidel across the street. But before winter arrived, I did venture outside. I’d go down into the subway and there, one billboard after another, would be giant photographs of Lana Del Rey modelling H&M.
She released two records this year, both of them tightly scripted pop oddities. Yet nothing she sang was half as interesting as the narrative blizzard around her. She was everywhere. She was the artist as click-bait and content and model and musician and commodity and press release. And what did she do with this power? A: Make money and repeatedly tip her hand. There she is, singing 'Blue Velvet' on Paradise – on the album it has the very same signature intro hook as her hit, just in case you didn’t get it - while our accelerated digital music media plays Frank Booth, huffing helium out of a tank (site visits) and rubbing a square of her bathrobe (no explanation necessary).
She chose and/or accepted this. Of all the things Lizzy Grant could have turned herself into, she went with Dorothy Vallens and I found it brutally weird. Down in that German subway, across from those H&M ads, my girlfriend would mock me, ‘Stop staring at her.’ But who could look away? Not me. I was writing about music and I had my part to play as well.
9. S/T by Metz / New Veteran by Blacklevel Embassy / Termites by True Radical Miracle / Songs Of The Third & Fifth by The Mark of Cain
Canadian post-punk band Metz may have gotten the Pitchfork glory for their immaculately delivered debut album but it was a banner year for weird and noisy Australian rock music. Oft overlooked, Melbourne’s Blacklevel Embassy quietly released a ripping third album in New Veteran. I’m not sure anyone gets, nor exploits, the links between AC/DC and Shellac quite like these guys. Altogether stranger and messier are True Radical Miracle, a band that channel some serious no-wave murk and yet still come off sounding more like a rock band than a noise experiment. Termites is unrelenting, wilfully unpleasant even.
Finally, there was the new album from Adelaide’s The Mark of Cain. It must read like science-fiction from the past but in The Mark of Cain’s early career, much was made of their day jobs. The fact that the Scott brothers were both engineers was a major hook in reportage on the band in the '90s. Now everyone in music has an office job, especially people who play music this idiosyncratic. We live in a world where music-making is, for the most part, a type of committed leisure. And as such, Songs Of The Third and Fifth made for an interesting case study: here was a long-term Australian hobby band, still at it. Happily enough, they presented something career defining here. It wasn’t nostalgia. It was a reminder.
PS: If I read one more piece that cites The Men in the same breath as Unsane or any of this music above, I’m going to start praying for death comets. On their best day, The Men are as breezy as a reggae band compared to these artists.
8. Silver Age by Bob Mould / Lets Go Eat The Factory by Guided By Voices
Speaking of nostalgia, in 2012, there was no greater sin than to openly admit to one’s own history of listening, especially if that history involved rock music. If you simply ‘liked’ things from the past, you were dead in the water, a lame duck too unhip to even re-channel the past into looped genrewave music or Tumblr bait. Fuck y’all. I loved '90s Bob Mould (Sugar) and Bob Pollard (‘classic’ Guided By Voices) and this year both of these weird cranks turned in albums I would enjoy if they were made by someone else. In fact, I’d probably enjoy them more if they were made by someone else. So here they are.
7. Go Easy by Blank Realm / Sublunar by Kane Ikin
It felt completely deflating when Pitchfork pipped the Australian music press over Go Easy. It’s a fine album, the sort of thing anyone who had even a half-cocked eye on the band knew was coming. So when Pitchfork ran their 7.3 review a week before Mess+Noise even, it felt weird. It makes sense: the band’s label for Go Easy is located in the US and that’s probably where a lot of the promotional push was (if there was much, to speak of). But for me, this moment really hammered home the state of things: Australian music writing is a bit fucked. Here was the biggest, most widely read music rag in the world leading the Australian press on the exact sort of local release we needed to be covering first. When we can’t even keep on top of our own emerging music, what’s the fucking point?
Go Easy is not an isolated case unfortunately. A lot of the Australian music on this list is absent from any broader national discussion. Melbourne’s Kane Ikin released (via 12K) a ridiculously great drone and beats record this year on Sublunar and critique of that album is nowhere to be found at home. I didn’t even know he was Australian when I first stumbled onto his album. Instead we’re lucky to get one or two album reviews a day—of anything, even the centre—from our higher level outlets and almost zero ongoing commitment. Worst still, there just doesn’t seem to be the budget nor the editorial power out there to cover music below a certain watermark—one that seems completely arbitrated by local industry and advertisers—and it's getting worse every year. If you want to read about anything happening on any of the various margins of Australian music, you’re mostly reading the work of an unpaid volunteer, a blogger or a junior/developing writer or you’re reading about your own culture on an ‘international’ music website. To an extent, that’s fine. But I just don’t want that all the time. I don’t want only that. I also want to look at nice sentences about a wider variety of music, and to hear from people more experienced than myself regarding this music. The intent and interest is there, the money isn’t. And so in 2012, I went from harbouring doubts about this stuff turning around one day to thinking, ‘Oh well, the pay cut isn’t that drastic anyhow.’
6. Shallow Rewards by Chris Ott
Way more encouraging was former Pitchfork editor Chris Ott’s video blog series Shallow Rewards. If someone asked me at the start of the year what was the #1 thing we didn’t need in 2012, I would have answered: ‘More music critics pondering the value of music criticism.’ Whoops. What makes Ott such a fresh voice right now is that he isn’t exactly pondering, he’s doing. You really get the sense from watching him that he’s proactively trying to sift through the problems around him. Sure, he’s pretty harsh, pretty American and pretty interested in his own biography (which music critic isn’t?) but I have a strong feeling that this guy might actually change the conversation a little in 2013. He’s just that good and he’s found his medium.
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