the obligatory 2012 retrospective

I realize I’m about a month late on this. God forbid I take a couple of weeks to process the year. But new years never feel different than old ones, and although much changed in 2012, more stayed the same. I still measure my life in semesters and I still have the same goals, ambitions, insecurities, desires, and anxieties as I always have. Though my optimistic self does feel closer to where I ultimately want to be–even though that’s often changing. And it should.

When it comes to music, 2012 was pretty great. Definitely better than 2011. I had a hard time even coming up with 10 albums last year. Without further adieu, here are my top 10 favorite albums of 2012.

10. Coheed and Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension
A welcome return to form. They’re back with Josh Eppard and the producers of their first three albums. This is the sound I missed. Chris Pennie is a better drummer, but Josh fits this band’s style much better. It’s still missing the epic prog rock tunes that I know they’re capable of, like most of their last few records, but I still love this one. The title track is probably their best song in recent memory.

9. Kids These Days – Traphouse Rock
Rap/rock/R&B fusion done right. This record flows seamlessly between country, blues, indie rock, and hip-hop styles in a way that doesn’t seem forced or awkward at all.

8. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
This band seemed to come out of nowhere. Brittany Howard is the best frontwoman I’ve heard in a long time. Amazing live. They seem so seasoned, like something my parents would listen to, in a good way.

7. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
Most creative R&B record I’ve heard in a long time. “Pyramids” might be the track of the year.

6. Poliça – Give Up the Ghost
Solid debut. I loved Channy with GAYNGS so I bought this record the day it came out.

5. Earlimart – System Preferences
I just discovered this band in 2012…one of my best finds. A lot of their songs have a very Elliott Smith vibe.

4. Kishi Bashi – 151a
of Montreal’s former violinist with a really impressive debut LP. I’m already hearing him in MTV shows and on commercials, which is a sign that he’ll be big this year.

3. Titus Andronicus – Local Business
I just love this band. This is a more back-to-basics record than the ambitious The Monitor, but that’s a good thing to me. They’ve done an epic already…no need to do it again.

2. The Viking Progress – Whistling While the End is Near
Excellent debut that you may not have heard much about outside of Athens. Very much influenced by In the Aeroplane Over the Sea all the way down to the album artwork, and including the fact that Scott Spillane plays on this record. But at the same time, it doesn’t sound like it’s ripping anything off. Patrick Morales wrote these songs while working on two fishing boats in Alaska named The Viking and The Progress. It’s a concept album about God deciding how to end the world. Between the concept and the ITAOTS influence, it sounds overly ambitious, but it’s really not. It’s just a really pretty record all the way through.

1. Reptar – Body Faucet
This album received an undeserved panning from Pitchfork. Honestly, many outlets would have this in a top 10 if it wasn’t for Pitchfork and their unwarranted influence on the indie zeitgeist. This was one of my most anticipated records this year and it doesn’t disappoint at all. I’ve also seen them live many times and each time was uniquely one of the most memorable shows I’ve been to. They’re basically WU LYF meets Animal Collective, but they’ve been around locally for a pretty good while, so I’ve been listening to them before I started listening to either of those bands.

Honorable Mention: Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Like Bon Iver last year, the new Japandroids is also good but overrated. Post-Nothing is the better record, and I felt like I had already heard too much of Celebration Rock on their 7″ releases over the past couple of years for me to consider it all that new.

Lastly, here are 5 songs from bands not mentioned above that I thoroughly enjoyed last year.

5. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – “Maniac”
This album didn’t get the attention it deserved. Almost made it in my top 10, but it was barely edged out. It has some really great moments. This is one of them.

4. The Antlers – “Drift Dive”
Burst Apart was my #1 of 2011. This was only an EP so it wasn’t in my consideration for albums of the year, but I love this band.

3. Sam Means – “Something in the Air”
Sam’s voice and the way he always sounds a little lo-fi reminds me of M. Ward with less folk, more pop.

2. fun. – “Some Nights”
Overplayed song and terrible production on most of this album. I trashed the album when it came out. To an extent, I don’t care. I’ve loved these guys too long and this song is irresistible. On the other hand, I really wish they had kept Steve McDonald, who produced Aim & Ignite and Dog Problems with The Format. He kept them from going too far into bubblegum territory, which is what this song is–aside from the lyrics, which are some of the best I’ve heard in a top 40 song in a long time.

1. CHVRCHES – “The Mother We Share”
This band is going to blow up soon…this song is too good. No album or tour outside of the UK yet. You’ll know them well this time next year.

baby alligators in the sewers grow up fast

I’m not sure how I’ve neglected to mention here that I’m getting married soon, to a woman with whom I still fall in love daily. I could say many more sappy things. But yes…that’s happening. For real this time. And I recently started a legit full-time job with benefits for both myself and my fiancée. So many worries and anxieties of the past three years are gone. I’m in the best place I’ve been in a long time. I still live in Athens, and I’m still in love with it, even if it means hour commutes to work. I don’t fall in love with locales easily, at least not in this country.

Seeing the Perks of a Wallflower movie tonight reminded me of myself in high school and college–my early 20s. I’ve spent so much mental energy post-graduation trying to get those infinite feelings back. Many of those stories are past, logged in my silly ’04-’05 Xanga posts, many drenched in Dashboard Confessional lyrics. Evenings and late nights will emerge that make me feel that way, a way that makes the most sober and rational person cringe. Maybe I’ll channel more exciting spirits through melody and/or words. It gets harder to find your younger spirit, but you can’t keep looking in the same places. The ultimate goal is to feel alive and unpredictable while keeping our adult investments and goals safe. Some would say to throw out the latter, or “#YOLO,” in simpler terms, but if YouTube is any indication, that mantra leads to little more than stupidity.

As I approach 30, I expect to become much better at maintaining this balance.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year…more than I have at any other time in my adult life. Next year and beyond is where I start to figure out what it all means. Happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas, everyone.

where we’re headed we have never been

I might as well call this a Format blog with the amount of posts dedicated to those dudes. Didn’t intend that, but this recent find is definitely worth posting. I must thank Brooke for pointing out in a comment that a studio version of this exists out there. Also thanks to this Tumblr for posting it in the first place.

My search on the interwebs turned up a few streams, but no MP3, so I made one myself. This is basically the holy grail of unreleased Format tunes. It’s a post-Dog Problems song called “Swans” recorded for a movie (it wasn’t a good movie, so I won’t even mention it), and The Format also played it live on their last couple of tours (including on the Mayan DVD).

So here you go; the full, uninterrupted studio version of “Swans” ready to drop in your iTunes and put on all of your mix CDs (do people still make those? I still do…)

MP3: The Format – Swans

tie the rope, tap the brake, cause a scene

I saw a request for this somewhere out there, and I needed an excuse to post something. I’m pretty sure this little acoustic session known as the “White Room Demos” was sent out to people on The Format’s email list back in the day. It contains what is probably my favorite version of the b-side “Your New Name.” It’s also got an early version of “Janet” with a lot of lyrical differences and a more upbeat tempo than the final version, which I first heard back in ’04, so this is definitely pre-Dog Problems by a few years. Enjoy.

The Format – White Room Demos
Download ZIP Archive
1. Your New Name
2. Janet

PSA: Verizon and unlimited data plans

I don’t write a lot (if any) tech posts here, but I’ve been meaning to start–and now is a pretty good time to start. Verizon is ending unlimited data plans for upgraders in the near future. (They’ve been unavailable to new customers for a year, but as of right now, you can still upgrade and keep it if you already have it.) They’re moving to tiered data plans, which will cap your data and charge you a premium for overages. In short, a terrible deal. No specific expiration date on unlimited data yet, but if you have an unlimited 3G plan right now, you’re going to want to jump on the unlimited 4G ship before it’s sailed forever. (If you’re devoted to iPhone, you may be out of luck, though.) Here are some ways to keep your unlimited and upgrade to a new 4G phone:

  • If your phone is available for a discounted upgrade, do it now. Get yourself a good 4G phone that you’ll be satisfied with for a while. The Motorola DROID RAZR or HTC Rezound are good options; also, the HTC DROID Incredible 4G LTE is coming soon. All of these have (or will have) the newest version of Android: Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich. Do some research to ensure whatever phone you get will have this.
  • If your phone won’t be available for a discounted upgrade for a while, buy one of Verizon’s certified pre-owned phones online. They have some pretty good 4G phones, some as low as $50 with a new two-year contract.
  • See if Verizon will offer you an early upgrade. They send out occasional promotions. I don’t know exactly when or why they offer these; maybe a few months before you’re due for an upgrade you’ll get an e-mail promotion. Don’t hold your breath for this, though.
  • Buy a new phone at full price. It’s the most expensive option, but if you really want a certain phone and you can afford it, you can always do this without having to sign a new contract.
  • Switch to Sprint. They’re the only major cell phone carrier still offering unlimited 4G plans to new customers. Verizon has a much better network though, so if you can keep them, I would.

Point being: upgrade to 4G now if you can. This is basically your last chance. Verizon still has good customer service despite this awful move, and they have the best network for both voice and data. I hate Verizon for this, but it is what it is.

you’re alive and it shows

Sam Means (the instrumental half of long-time favorite The Format) is set to release his new 7″ entitled Nona on Record Store Day (check the link for more RSD releases and events–this year is looking better than ever!) I received my copy of Nona in the mail today, and I’m happy to highly encourage you to pick it up on Saturday. To get an idea of what to expect from Means’ post-Format work, imagine that band’s mellow, upbeat pop tunes with the soft/lo-fi vocal style of M. Ward. It makes for some fun, subtle pop music that I really look forward to hearing on a full length album at some point.

For now, you can watch the newly released video for “Something in the Air.” Also worthy of note is that this EP features contributions by musicians from Dog Problems and The Format touring band (Mark Buzard, Don Raymond, Mike Schey). A good cure if you’re still reeling from the band’s breakup in 2008.

feeling free

Meanwhile, in Athens news, Reptar is poised to release their debut LP Body Faucet on May 1st. The record will be out on Vagrant and is produced by Atlanta’s Ben H. Allen, also known for his work with Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley, and more recently, Fanfarlo. This is a release I’ve personally anticipated for years, and is the culmination of three years of potential energy buildup unlike anything I’ve seen since I’ve lived in Athens. It’s definitely an exciting time to be an Athenian. For those outside of Athens, by the end of the year, you will be very familiar with these guys if you aren’t already. With a sound that brings together the gritty vocals and percussion of WU LYF with the catchy melodies of MGMT, they’re more than ready for mainstream and critical attention.

However, Reptar is not yet forsaking our small town for the big time, playing Ciné on Record Store Day (4/21), the 40 Watt for the Body Faucet release weekend (5/4), and they will also be headlining a night of AthFest along with Atlas Sound (6/22). Also, in what will go down as probably the coolest thing to happen in Athens this year, Reptar played an impromptu show at the Georgia Theatre back in February. The story is that the house show they were playing got shut down, so they just trekked over to the Georgia Theatre to finish up after Tom Green’s set that night. I wasn’t there (I caught them on New Year’s Eve), but judging by the videos, it was definitely ridiculous–any band with the ability to conjure such a crowd in a town where musical acts are a dime-a-dozen is one worth watching by the world. Look out for Reptar in 2012, for sure.

and at once I knew I was not magnificent

I’ve neglected this space yet again. No updates in almost two months. Well, here’s one I’ve been sitting on for a while. Bon Iver, though still evidently outside of mainstream consciousness, is a band that has recently blown up thanks to awards, TV appearances, Kanye, etc. I was lucky enough to see them last summer at what I consider to be a large venue, and this was before the Grammy win. On this summer’s tour, expect even larger arenas and amphitheaters to accommodate those fans who don’t listen to music that doesn’t win Grammy Awards. At any rate, one thing that’s especially evident to me in their live performances is that this is not one man–this is a band. Bon Iver may have been Justin on For Emma, but the project has gone far beyond that at this point.

In saying farewell to the club circuit for Bon Iver, enjoy this recording from their second night at DC’s 9:30 Club last summer. It was broadcasted by NPR, but here, it’s been split up, tagged, ribbed and lubricated for your iTunes importing pleasure.

[photo from Erica Bruce, Washington City Paper]

Bon Iver – Live at 9:30 Club – Washington, DC – 8/2/11
Download ZIP Archive

1. Perth
2. Minnesota, WI
3. Towers
4. Holocene
5. Creature Fear
6. Flume
7. Hinnom, TX
8. Wash.
9. Brackett, WI
10. Blood Bank
11. Who Is It? (Björk Cover)
12. Re: Stacks
13. Calgary
14. Wolves (Acts I and II)
15. Skinny Love
16. Beth / Rest
17. For Emma

ashes to ashes some dust on the dash