December 31, 2012

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2012

Another year of music has come and gone, dense with wonder and goodness. I can’t possibly articulate the qualitatively-best albums of the year, but I can mentally categorize into my favorites (something that has been a hot discussion topic this week with my musical friends). These are my favorite albums that were released in 2012 — tallied in a scientific manner of how long it took me to take the record off repeat. When I love something, I tend to love music furiously and unrelentingly, listening to it on repeat for weeks and months until I get sick of it. I’m not sick of any of these wonderful records yet, and in fact they keep getting better the more I listen.

Here are my favorite ten albums of 2012, in alphabetical order by artist. Take a listen: there are some wonderful things here you might have missed.


Like a fire that consumes all before it…
Adam Arcuragi (Thirty Tigers)

Ohhhh, this record. This is a strong, rootsy, growly record that is also stunningly beautiful. Philadelphia “death gospel” musician Adam Arcuragi sings from the very base of his guts, with his head back and his heart forward. Singing along with him and his Lupine Chorale Society (from lupo, the latin word for wolf) during their chapel session, with my head back and heart forward as well, was a highlight of the year for me in terms of the soul elevation, something that this music has in loads. This was definitely one for much-needed replenishment this year.

Oh, I See – Adam Arcuragi

Break It Yourself
Andrew Bird (Mom+Pop Records)

Andrew Bird has made a spry, elegant record, full of darting violin, freewheeling gypsy stomping, lugubrious plucking, and his famous whistling in true virtuoso style. It is also a complicated record: best listened to as a whole, complete with the interspersed short musical interlude songs that pepper through the larger orchestral numbers. It feels like a journey. Songs like “Lazy Projector” soundtracked long hot summer nights for me, and into the winter this record has continued to be one I reach for often.

Lusitania (feat. St Vincent) – Andrew Bird

Bahamas (Brushfire Records)

Afie Jurvanen cut his musical touring teeth with Feist and the Broken Social Scene kids, and is now on his second record of his own songs. This record is brimming with charm and a sort of playfulness that draws on old Sun-Studios session sounds, lots of golden space and reverb in the room, and so hard not to move your hips back and forth. Afie’s voice is so warm and honeyed (he’s on the super-shortlist for Chapel Sessions in 2013) that this record is completely irresistible.

Lost In The Light – Bahamas

I Predict A Graceful Expulsion
Cold Specks (Arts & Crafts)

This feels like a hard-fought record, wrought by a voice who deserves to be around for a very long time. Al Spx’s voice is transfixing, and resonates with this timeless gospel weight that seems to know more than her 24 years should allow. Her video for “Holland” is one of the most perfect things to happen in a long time, visually weaving together the decay and the growth, the chaos and the intention. There is immense power in this record. When she sings: “I am, I am / I am, I am a goddamned believer,” it’s as if she is trying to convince herself, maybe. Sometimes it is hard to be a believer, goddamit. She gets it.

Blank Maps – Cold Specks

Damien Jurado (Secretly Canadian)

There is a ghostly swing to this record, the twelfth (depending on how you count) from the insanely talented and insanely prolific Seattle songwriter Damien Jurado. It’s haunting and flawless all at once, with the echo of rain on the roof and children singing in chorus – it is as unsettling and it is perfectly incisive. Another Jurado collaboration with Richard Swift, this record is so full of goodness (“I want you and the skyline / these are my demands.” ??? COME ON) that it is almost too powerful some days.

Museum of Flight – Damien Jurado

Field Report
Field Report (Partisan Records)

One summer night at 3am, I found myself sitting up with Field Report around my kitchen table, talking about songwriting and art and intentionality (and reading this Annie Dillard essay aloud – thanks, Jonathan). The more I heard Chris Porterfield talk about his songs, giving even small insights into them, the more I decided that this record resonates with the way my brain sees stories unfold in the world. It’s breathtaking. This album feels, to me, like an insistent wrestling with fever dreams, the small failings that slice at us, and the things we wanted and meant to do, but somehow got lost along the way. The words unravel for me like rich poems, to roll over and over in my head, hearing new things each time. Field Report is an anagram of Chris Porterfield, a Wisconsin musician who was once in the band DeYarmond Edison with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and the Megafaun guys, and he has now crafted a record of his own. These songs took him years to wrestle out, and I am so glad he kept fighting.

(Watch for the chapel session in a week or so!)

Fergus Falls – Field Report

The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Fiona Apple (Clean Slate / Epic)

Man, this record. The piece of writing I worked out about it earlier this month says exactly what I want to say:

What I hear when I listen to this record is a ragged bravery, a loose-knuckled grip on any sort of stability, and a gorgeous musical honesty. It’s a complicated, outstanding record. Fiona wheels and rages and turns her scalpel alternately fiercely in on herself and outward on a lover (who she calls out by name, more than once). It feels much more raw and bloody than previous records, as she continues to push forward with letting classical prettiness go. I think that notion alone deserves a slow clap, in a society that tends to prefer our ladyfolk a bit more decorous and docile.

Werewolf – Fiona Apple

Isaac Pierce EP
Isaac Pierce / Ten Speed Music (self-released)

This humble, perfect record landed softly on my ears on Easter morning, as the world was waking up. Isaac Pierce crafts songs out of Seattle that meander and drift, thoughtfully probing before landing perfectly where they need to be. He is a songwriter who taps into the exact same navigation my brain steers by, and this EP is deeply satisfying. “We get to be alive / sleep on your porch tonight / with certain distant songs playing, remind me to thank you for bringing us out here just in time…” All bruises heal.

Isaac is playing a house show for me THIS Wednesday, on January 2, with The Changing Colors (chapel session alums from early on) and Mike Clark (whose “Smooth Sailin’” track started and titled my Summer 2012 mix). You really, really should come.

Warm Bruise – Isaac Pierce

Lonesome Dreams
Lord Huron (IAMSOUND)

This is a slowly-building, warmly calescent record that totally took me by surprise by how much and how quickly I adored it. I think this record is what a roadtrip might sound like across the West Texas desert if I brought Fleet Foxes along in the bed of my pickup truck, and added some warm Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms.

Time To Run – Lord Huron

Sharon Van Etten (Jagjaguwar)

This is an album of heft and grief, but also of a hovering loveliness. You don’t often get those two together because the one usually crushes the other. Sharon balances both. This record strips and excoriates me, which sounds terrible but is the exact opposite: the type of brave catharsis that is so exquisitely and purely crafted that it makes all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Her songs wrestle with the desire to love as new as she can, despite her scars, and often start quiet and thoughtfully but crescendo into a hurricane. This is a tremendous, tremendous album.

All I Can – Sharon Van Etten


Most Important Song of 2012:
“Same Love,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Because of this:

New Artist I Am Most Excited About in 2013: Night Beds

Because of a voice like this:

In the old tunnels off Gold Camp Road in Western Colorado Springs, Winston Yellen of Night Beds (debut record out February 5 on Dead Oceans) covered 1950s chanteuse Jo Stafford last night, illuminated by the car headlights.

The first Fuel/Friends Tunnel Session, and a pretty damn good way to end 2012.

December 5, 2006

Cold War Kids release free covers EP

Up-and-coming and hard to classify, the Cold War Kids are one of the more interesting acts to surface this year. I wrote about their Robbers & Cowards album back in October and today I am pleased to learn that they also like to try their pipes on varied cover songs, which we all know I can’t resist.

Check out the free Benefit At The District EP with their versions of six wildly different songs. Here are three tunes from that EP, along with the original in two cases and some gratuitous Pearl Jam content. As usual.

As Fast As You Can – Cold War Kids (I think this is the most successful of the bunch, they pull off Fiona’s borderline crazy-but-beautiful sound surprisingly well)
As Fast As You Can – Fiona Apple

The Littlest Birds – Cold War Kids (this one is not good, at least not compared to the original which I adore. I’m posting their cover just so I can post this original, which is one of the best kid songs ever that doesn’t sound too hokey. Thanks Chris!)
The Littlest Birds – The Be Good Tanyas

Tonight You Belong To Me – Cold War Kids
Tonight You Belong To Me – Eddie Vedder and Janet Weiss (drummer from Sleater-Kinney) – Live 8/12/06 at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. This is an old song from the ’20s, covered by everyone, sweet and small and lovely.

Check out the Cold War Kids site for the other three covers (Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and Dr. Dog).

October 2, 2006

Monday Music Roundup

Okay, this could be the most entertaining site I’ve come across in a while. will translate any website into “jive” (and yes, the silver rims spin on the real page header). So for example, my recent post on Tom Luce becomes the following:

“…A fizzy gutted tha apartment of lead wannabe gangsta Tom Luce (izzy is truly one of tha funky assst & sincerest guys you’ll meet) cuz I put gangsta rap on tha map. They is appear’n at a benefit concert tomorrow nizzay, W-H-to-tha-izzich I am pleazed ta report is sold out. Tom Luce appeared on tha KFOG Spendin’ Show on Monday n tha response ta they upcom’n shizzow has been phenomizzles.”

See, I never knew I had all that in me. Think of all the fun we can have with this site. Aweshizzle.


Cartoon Music For Super Heroes
Albert Hammond Jr.

Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. cuts into solo mode with a thoroughly enjoyable upcoming album Yours To Keep. While there is still a Stroke-ing feel to this collection, it is definitely NOT a Strokes record. Someone has been listening to a lot of Beach Boys, and the retro melodic inflections throughout this album are a very nice touch. Guest artists include fellow Stroke Julian Casablancas, Ben Kweller, Sean Lennon, and Jody Porter (of Fountains of Wayne), so the flashback goodness is not totally unexpected. The album comes out October 9th in the UK on Rough Trade Records, and in Europe & Japan later this year. We Americans must wait until further, unspecified notice for our release. You can stream three more tracks from the album on his MySpace to sate you.

Crazy (Patsy Cline, live cover)
Fiona Apple
On 6/28/02 Fiona Apple played one of her covers-filled sets at the Largo in Los Angeles. I can only find a middling-quality version of a few songs, but man, does she work them. Two Patsy Cline covers – this bang-up sultry version of “Crazy” (originally by Willie Nelson), and “Walkin’ After Midnight”, as well as “Cry Me A River” (Julie London) and “Half As Much” (George Jones). If anyone knows where I can get a clean copy of this or other Largo sets, please let me know! In the meantime, here are three other songs from a 2003 Largo show, including a Buddy Holly cover with Jon Brion.

She Does
This unsigned Brooklyn band (originally from Wisconsin) rips through song after song of spot-on 1960s rock, but with a gritty punk edge that recalls the Libertines or even some of the aggressive recent riffs of the Arctic Monkeys. It’s sloppy guitars, handclaps, and harmonies throughout, and they’ve even got a McCartney lookalike (pic, right). Their MySpace has several other tracks for download. They’ve opened for everyone from John Vanderslice to OK Go to The Dandy Warhols, and they score points with me for their spirited reinvention of the best of the British Invasion. A fun romp, from their upcoming Don’t Make Me Wait album (out Nov 21, preorder coming next week on their website. In the meantime, get their 2005 EP here).

So Weird
Veruca Salt
Stereogum posted this mp3 a few weeks ago, reminding us all that Veruca Salt (well, part of Veruca Salt — Nina Gordon left to pursue her softer side in music) is still here and ready to rock and squeal and yowl your socks off with their particular brand of kickass girl rock. Released a few weeks ago (on the Sympathy For The Record Industry label), IV picks up satisfactorily where Resolver left us 6 years ago. It’s a solid, sexy effort overall, and I’m glad to see them back.

No Complaints
I am so glad that we have Beck to do what he does and fill the uniquely funky & diverse musical niche that he occupies. I am not aware of any other albums that sound like Beck’s ambitious productions. On this thrumming acoustic guitar jam with the standard trippy lyrics about spaceships and factory radiation, Beck is back in fine style. When the mothership comes, he will be ready to kick it with the Mr. Roboto sounds and garbled electronic affects that he is so fond of. The Information comes tomorrow on Interscope.

I have a rager of a head cold today and I’m thinkin’ that staying up til 2:30am last night certainly didn’t make me feel any better this morning. I am considering inserting a home IV drip of orange juice, or maybe buying Emergen-C in bulk.

Wish me luck and be patient with updates. I have a lot to say, but little clarity of mind with which to say it.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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