While Mrs. YHT was making a delicious Mexican corn chowder thing the other night, a song that was released in 2012 came on our under-cabinet CD player — yes, we still have (and use) an under-cabinet CD player — and a wave of regret began to wash over me. No… that metaphor isn’t strong enough. Hearing this particular song was more like regret giving me a spirited kick to the nuts. (You’ll find out which tune it was in a minute.)
In some ways I’m glad it happened, because there are a few artists and albums I’d take a mulligan to include, either because I screwed up or because of my short-sighted — albeit merciful, for sleep-getting reasons — decision to limit myself to 5 of each superlative category.
If you’ll indulge me, I promise not to ever talk about 2012 again.
OK, I can’t promise that, but indulge me anyways?
First Aid Kit — “Emmylou”
This was the kick to the nuts. How could I have let this happen? It’s especially egregious, given that I would have included the song in two different categories, had I not blanked out. The case for the favorite songs list is easy — I’ve listened to it over and over, my affinity for it has grown over time, I love the references to Johnny/June and Gram/Emmylou, and my heart skips a beat every time they say “Stockholm’s cold” (I swear, they deserve some sort of award for making the name of the capital of Sweden sound southern). The case for “Emmylou” being a favorite collaboration, however, is a little more complicated.
Yes, it’s true that Johanna and Klara Söderberg are a team, a band, a single unit, but the nature of their partnership deserves to be celebrated. These two singing together is nothing short of a celebration of human genetics. If you’re a fan of The Avett Brothers or Megafaun, you already know that siblings harmonizing together sounds different, somehow clearer or more pure. (I would have cited The Jackson 5 here, but nothing about that group seems “pure” in retrospect, sadly). First Aid Kit takes this idea even further, marrying that purity with astonishing power to create harmonies so strong and loud that certain notes routinely fly past the upper volume limit of whatever equipment is being used to record them. Google “First Aid Kit Emmylou live” and listen to what happens in the chorus when they sing the word “asking” — you’ll hear microphones’ compression going into overdrive, trying desperately not to distort their voices. They’re the aural version of looking at an eclipse without one of those rigged-up box thingies, and if that isn’t a collaboration worth putting on a pedestal, I don’t know what is.
Alt-J — An Awesome Wave
I have a relatively good excuse for this one. I made the mistake of writing about Alt-J for the first time right before starting the 5×5 posts, and I felt like it would be overkill to write about them again so soon afterwards. (Foresight? What’s that?) Nevertheless, An Awesome Wave is the epitome of what I had in mind when I created the Late-Breakers category — an album I know I’ll fall even more in love with in 2013.
One way I’ve been getting into it lately is by following along with one-off live performances that keep popping up in different corners of the Internet. I saw this one from KCRW a while back, and I recently checked out their Tiny Desk Concert, as well as the one above, which was filmed for opbmusic at the Star Theater in Portland (this Portland, not that Portland). Have a look if you haven’t already, and listen below to a remix of the song that was assembled by Jim James of My Morning Jacket.
RVA Long Play
Nelly Kate — ISH ISH
I’ve been having fun catching up on the albums released in Richmond last year that I missed for one reason or another, and Sounds of RVA’s wonderfully thorough Best LPs of 2012 in RVA list has been an invaluable resource in that department. (If you’ve yet to read it, do yourself a favor and dive in this very minute.) That said, the album I’d like to append to my own favorites list is one I’ve known about for a while, ever since I chipped in to the successful Kickstarter campaign that helped ensure it could be pressed to vinyl. Nelly Kate’s ISH ISH is an incredibly personal album, with a sense of intimacy that strikes me as truly remarkable. Listening really is like having a one-on-one conversation, a quality that was foreshadowed by the fact that my vinyl copy was hand-delivered by Kate herself. We’d arranged the drop-off via her Kickstarter site, and since I still haven’t managed to make it to one of her shows, it was nice to have an opportunity to say face-to-face how much I admire the work that she’s doing.
The Lumineers — The Lumineers
My promotional copy of Alabama Shakes’ Boys & Girls isn’t the only unusually brag-worthy record that made its way into my collection in 2012. After watching The Lumineers perform an extra-sweaty opening set at Lewis Ginter, I waited in line and had my vinyl copy of the group’s eponymous debut effort signed by the three principal members, including frontman Wesley Schultz, with whom I played in a band for a short time at the end of college. (Thankfully, I managed to keep the record dry when a freakishly fast-moving storm hit Richmond hit later that night.)
It’s been incredible watching their equally swift rise in notoriety, an ascent that reached new heights when they were recently nominated for a pair of Grammys. Following along has been especially rewarding because The Lumineers is one of those records that’s easy to root for — beautiful, affecting, and above all else, emotionally honest. Whether they win both awards or neither, I have a feeling that, for many years to come, I’ll be brandishing the above-pictured record and telling people about the time I happily waited in line to get it signed by an old friend.