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23

Jan

2013

Top 20 of 2012: Stephen J. Nereffid

By Stephen J. Nereffid. Posted in Analysis and Opinion, Classical, Reviews | 3 Comments »

This is the first time I’ve compiled a personal best of the year, and I realise the resulting list says as much about my buying habits as about my taste in classical music. There’s little you might call the mainstream classical repertoire, because I don’t often look for more than one recording of a work, and a tight budget has meant some higher-profile releases never reached my ears; moreover, I’ve also been filling gaps in my collection with older recordings rather than buying new ones. So, give me a month and a couple of hundred euros and it might be a very different list. But let’s stick with the excellence at hand. The order of the list has changed repeatedly during the compiling, and would presumably continue to do so if I didn’t stop now.

Adams Harmonielehre1 John Adams: Harmonielehre – Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony (SFS Media). In the early 90s, I discovered the music of Gustav Mahler and Philip Glass at roughly the same time. What I didn’t know then was that a few years earlier John Adams had combined the two (and plenty more besides) in Harmonielehre. The title comes from the treatise of the same name by Schoenberg, but Adams’s music is a gleeful rejection of Schoenberg’s aesthetic, a grand mix of influences and references that constantly surprises.

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17

Jan

2013

Top 20 of 2012: Kezzie Baker

By Kezzie Baker. Posted in Bluegrass, Folk, Rock | No Comments »

I will admit it.  At the end of each year, I attempt to come up with a “best-of” list of my own but struggle to identify even a handful.  This is partly due to the fact that I am so bad about paying attention to the actual release dates of albums that I will invariably include several recordings that are older than I thought.  This time, however, I had no trouble at all.  2012 proved to be a stellar year for releasing good music.  Here are my picks for the best of the best, in no particular order:

 

O’ Be Joyful by Shovels & Rope (Dualtone Music Group).  (AMERICANA)  Shovels & Rope is Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, a husband-and-wife duo.  Their website says they “sing harmony driven folk, rock and country songs using two old guitars, a kick drum, a snare, a few tambourines, harmonicas, and maybe a little keyboard sometimes.”  There’s plenty of that on O’ Be Joyful, plus fiddles, banjos, and some wonderful, slightly off-kilter horns that take the genre to a new level (“Hail, Hail,” and “Tickin’ Bomb”).  Clanky percussion is prominent on most of the tracks.  Songs like “Carnival” demonstrate the duo can dazzle with slow-tempo ballads, too.  It’s just quirky enough that it may not be for everyone, but if you like an old-timey country sound with a rockin’ edge to it, this album just might be right up your alley. ( Listen to samples here.)

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Here it is finally, my list of the best of what I found among 2012’s new releases. (I found a lot of great jazz from before I was born too, but that’s another story.) I no more listened to everything out there than anyone else did, but these are releases from 2012 that I listened to repeatedly and expect to be returning to in 2013 and beyond. The exact order is arbitrary and could change on any given day, though albums are probably roughly in the right quarter of the list. I’ve included at the end an honor roll of another 20 that did not quite make my list but were also greatly enjoyed. After all, I think the main function of lists like this is help folk find things (at least that’s how I use all the other lists out there).

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#1 Pjusk – Tele
Norway’s Pjusk have become one my favorite ambient/electronic artists on the strength of three stellar releases. Tele (full review here) takes us deep into the glacial cold of northern Norwegian landscapes – the tracks are themed around layers of rock and ice. Deep in the earth, we are taken on a dark and resonant atmospheric journey that ends in light and life. Creation is not all sunlit beaches, and this release gives us a masterful aural tour of its frozen recesses.

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