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.



FUEL/FRIENDS TOP TEN FAVORITES OF 2012

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



Barchords
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



Maraqopa
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.
[more]

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



Tramp
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



TWO OTHER THINGS:

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.

March 22, 2011

Fuel/Friends dives in at SXSW 2011

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On Wednesday night, as we braced ourselves for the marvelous musical onslaught that was churning ready to release onto the streets of Austin, somebody told me that the SXSW Festival was 40% larger this year than last. I have no idea if that is true because I am terrible at estimating numbers of anything, but I can certainly believe it, as SXSW continues to grow and draw so many acts down to Texas that I always leave feeling like I’ve been through a musical washing machine. Or maybe I feel like that episode of ‘I Love Lucy’ where she is trying to eat the chocolates that just keep coming so fast, and more, and more, and more. No one can keep up with all that deliciousness, but I was game to try. I’m always game.



After a splendid opening reception for media at Austin City Hall with some excellent local talent and gift bags with bottles of Tito’s (uh oh), I headed as quickly as I could over to Bat Bar for Walk The Moon, to start my SXSW 2011 off right. You know I was mightily excited. With the crowd packed close and the bar walls open to Sixth Street passersby stopping to watch, their set was crackling with the kind of kinetic confidence that comes easiest in youth. Their energetic, dancey set can best be illustrated by two texts I sent to a friend while I was trying to convince him to come over.

9:24pm: “These guys are adorable. And twenty.
9:26pm: “And wearing facepaint.

It was everything I had hoped for. The first show of my SXSW was also the feel-good winner. I had to stop filming a video clip because I decided I had to dance instead.

Walk The Moon
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I want to join Wild Flag. I want them to adopt me as egg-shaker rocker girl (since I couldn’t depose the formidable Janet Weiss, of Sleater-Kinney, as their drummer) and take me on tour with them, so I could bask in their rock glory every night. Fronted by Carrie Brownstein, this new band of Pacific Northwest badasses were phenomenal at the NPR party, playing their squalling guitars held behind their heads. Their songs had strong driving melodies and basslines, with that singsong female voice that sounds even better with the right heft behind it.

Their MySpace helpfully says “Apt adjectives for describing the band’s music: wild. Also: flaggy.” To that I would add: really damn good. Cannot wait to get their (Britt Daniel-produced) first 7″ on Record Store Day.

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After lunch on Thursday I started out from the house I was staying at, and walked past the Auditorium Shores where The Strokes were due to play that night. There was already an amazingly long line of kids standing waiting in line for the free set. Even if it hadn’t been for the multitude of Strokes shirts in incarnations from the last decade on every other person, it would have been fun (and easy) to try and tell which band they were waiting for just based on the fashion.

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That night was my first time seeing The Strokes, and it was long overdue. I was giddy with anticipation. For a band that saw its comeuppance in small NYC clubs and the sweaty intensity of raucous tiny shows, I was acutely aware that something was missing from the way I was experiencing them for the first time, but beggars can’t be choosers, as they say, and to me they sounded absolutely terrific. With the Austin skyline silhouetting them, their set peppered with new songs, Julian brought his lackadaisical drawl (I’ve always said it sounds as if he can’t be arsed to get up off the couch), but there was that underlying edge, the guitars and drums tight and spot-on.

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On most days, this is my favorite Strokes song, and I just stood there with a big stupid grin on my face to get to see it from so close.



The set ended with a massive bombardment of surprise fireworks that started exploding during the opening drumbeat of “Last Nite.” I am a sucker for fireworks. I also thought fleetingly about some sort of metaphor in there for a band that used to cause all the fireworks themselves in small dark clubs, now playing such massive stages that they can light off pyrotechnics into the night air.



After a quick beer with my drummer friend Robby from These United States (who looks awesomely like Jesus these days, and whose sets I totally missed in Austin this year, sadly) I headed off – to church.

The rootsy new G. Love album, produced by the Avett Brothers, feels very much like the album he was always meant to make, and since it was recorded in a church, this seemed also like the setting I was absolutely meant to see it performed live in for the first time. Joined by Luther Dickinson from the Black Crowes and the North Mississippi Allstars for a few songs, he wailed and howled and stomped his way through his very solid and compelling set.

G. Love
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Lord Huron from Los Angeles were more potent and feisty live than their warm and woolly EP suggests. Instead of bringing that Fleet Foxes meets Edward Sharpe vibe, they cranked up the percussion (dude was wearing a washboard on his chest and I wanted to run away with him immediately into the Texas night) and were entirely danceable, in a near-tropical way.

The Stranger – Lord Huron

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My night ended on Thursday watching all dozen+ members of Gayngs (with Justin Vernon, and a dude in a white cape) cover George Michael’s “One More Try” to a packed Mohawk crowd. I just looked around a little confused and tried my best not to enjoy it (longstanding hatred of GM). And then sang it all the way home, dammit.

Gayngs
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Friday’s mercury climbed into the sticky-uncomfortable range, and became the day I decided to start a new photoblog called hipstersinhotweather.com. It is going to be completely amazing. From the moment I left the house, the sweat beads formed and were unrelenting, and I saw a large number of skinny jeans pulled up into man-capris, and plenty of dark clothing and impractical scarves sweat through. I was grateful for my dress.

To escape the heat, and because there is a fantastically vibrant scene there right now, our first stop of the day parties on Friday was the SXSeattle showcase at Copa, where we caught Ravenna Woods, Young Evils (harmonic, well-crafted pop with a kickass girl drummer named Faustine), and a hip-hop artist named Sol that we danced our asses off to, to spite the heat. I also had the WINNING moment of Damien Jurado showing me his driver’s license so I would believe who he was. Ummmm, the heat was scrambling my brain? Sigh. Sorry Damien. You are awesome and I know it.

Young Evils
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Get Over It – Young Evils



Sol
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Later that afternoon, I caught one of the most high energy sets with Middle Brother playing to a packed Barbarella backyard porch. This is the supernova collaboration between three excellent bands: Deer Tick, Dawes, and Delta Spirit. There was a genuine affinity between the three frontmen (see kiss below) and lots of interaction with / dancing in / throwing beer on the crowd to complement their crunchy riffs and early-’60s garage rock feel. [VIDEO: Me, Me, Me]

Middle Brother
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I also, not surprisingly, kept finding myself at The Head and The Heart shows – I think three in 2 days, by my count. The buzz on the street for them was thrilling. After SPIN Magazine hyped them as their #2 band to watch at SXSW 2011, it seemed that everywhere I went (photographers pit, radio lunches, that welcome reception) people were asking each other if they’d seen them yet. I had a few friends to drag to see them, so I happily went along spreading the gospel.

They played a wickedly hot midday show at Lustre Pearl for the Dickies/FILTER party on Thursday afternoon (their first “real” one, they said, meaning to a bunch of sweaty kids instead of to industry folks). Then on Friday, both the legendary Antone’s as well as headlining the Sub Pop showcase at 1am, before heading to the airport for their European tour with The Low Anthem. They left vapor trails in their wake, from an explosive week for them.

The Head and The Heart
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In between Head and The Heart sets on Friday night, I popped into the Ale House for my favorite Australian from last year’s SXSW, Andy Clockwise. Completely dousing the audience with charisma like gasoline, Clockwise commands you watch him, and commands you enjoy. He brought the girl next to me up onto stage to play electric guitar and I couldn’t help but be jealous of her badassery.

Andy Clockwise
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Josh Ritter played the St. David’s Church sanctuary at 10:30pm, and I got in only for the last few songs. It was quite a shift after Andy Clockwise, but it was utterly spellbinding, and –as you can imagine– transcendent. If there is a more poignant moment than Ritter performing “In The Dark” in a church, in the dark, with the crowd singing softly and spontaneously along, I don’t think I can handle it.

Josh Ritter
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Saturday morning I hopped right on up out of bed (ouch, cowboy boot blisters, ouch) ready to tackle the final full day of SXSW. By that day, everyone is feeling it and you best be talking quiet. Denver’s soiree of the music year at the Reverb Party was happening at Parkside, and it was on the lovely rooftop patio overlooking Sixth Street. Since I forgot to have a breakfast taco back home, my day started gently with Great Divide’s Wild Raspberry Ale (I mean, this is Colorado, so we do up our free beer at day parties RIGHT).

Port Au Prince is the new project of some good friends from the now-defunct band Astrophagus, back with a completely different sound. They are more accessible but still smart, with call-and-response melodies that made me happy when they rang down over Sixth Street.

Port Au Prince
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I headed over to the Ryan’s Smashing Life blog party at Rusty Spurs, where Adam Duritz did a cameo appearance with the rapper NOTAR that he has signed to his T Recs label. I definitely gushed on a little too much when I met him about what his music has meant to me over the years. But then again, let’s be honest I am not known for hiding my feelings, and Duritz has been a major force in my musical development over the years. It was a great moment for me.

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Also at that same party I got to check out the super talented Ivan & Alyosha from Seattle who were having quite a bit of fun up there. They’ve named their band after brothers from Dostoyevsky who struggle with faith and family ties, and chats with them before their set belie a depth of intelligence that is palpable in their smart, substantial songwriting. One of my favorite unexpected discoveries of the festival.

Easy To Love – Ivan & Alyosha

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Then I went and decided to Mess With Texas at their free outdoors day party on the other side of the highway, and in a shocking role reversal it ended up just completely messing with me instead. I was sending texts about !!! and people thought I was so excited that I was forgetting a word in there, but really I was just totally wowed by their live set. For a man wearing (very) short blue shorts and a purple striped polo shirt, the lead singer of !!! had charisma in droves. Despite my weepingly aching feet, I found myself dancing harder than I have in a very long time, there on the dusty field.

I’ve been googling lead singer Nic Offer today (since I’ve decided to abduct him for a dance party, after that show – and that Prince outtake they covered!), and this quote from the A.V. Club profile on him pretty much sums it up in the very best possible way:

“A few years back, I perfected ‘The Prance,’ where you’re almost skipping in place and you have a look on your face that says “Nobody’s business, ain’t nobody’s business if I do!”

I do so adore a man who isn’t afraid to dance. As one of the best songs on their new album says, my intentions with him are unabashedly bass.

Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass – !!!

!!!
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I packed into the giant sweaty tent for the ass-shaking extravaganza that was a Big Freedia show that I was promised would change my life (I never thought I would see a black man with a pompadour that impressive also have those sort of limber hips) and then almost died during Odd Future (no seriously) and evacuated the premises.



The last show I saw at SXSW 2011 was Rural Alberta Advantage at the Central Presbyterian Church late Saturday night. I have an affinity for the resonance of churches, and the simple quietude that is found in the shows that happen there. I am someone who is familiar with the interiors of churches, and lately shows like the RAA are the most deeply resounding and peaceful of the connections I make. Their set sounded fantastic: affecting, urgent, and honest. There was a simple joy, and words that needed to burn their way out. Their latest album Departing has been on non-stop repeat even before their set, but so much moreso after.

For their final song, they unplugged and walked down the red velvet aisle to stand among us and perform a stripped and perfect version of “Good Night.”

rush into the woods where we first felt god
ripple through our veins from the moment when we touched

When Nils threw his head back and the veins popped out on the side of his neck and he howled, “someday if you get it together in your heart / maybe we might get back together but good night….” I started crying and wasn’t even sure why, except for identifying with the longing permeating each syllable. It wasn’t a specific loss, rather a cumulative one.



I wandered alone through loud and colorful streets for about another hour, watching the expansive Laurel-Canyon sounds of Dawes for a few minutes from the street outside the crowded Lustre Pearl, but ultimately took my iPod, cued up Departing, and started the long walk home. The air was heavy and warm, and the as I crossed the river the almost-full moon was reflecting off the ripples. And of course, with so many songs ringing in my head, I was happy. There is no festival like this one.

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[all of my best pictures from the week are here on the Fuel/Friends Facebook page]

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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. If you represent an artist or a label and would prefer that I remove a link to an mp3, please email me at browneheather@gmail.com

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