JHS: Highlights of 2012
2012 has been an interesting year, to say the least. Here are some of the highlights. See you next year.
Australia – I was fortunate enough to spend a significant portion of my January traveling in Australia with family and friends. Musical discovery was one of the many positives of this trip. A few simple recommendations from a clerk at Polyester Records in Melbourne CBD opened my eyes to the world of Chapter Music, a fantastic label featuring three of the most interesting artists I found down under; Dick Diver, Twerps and Geoffrey O’Connor. Their respective albums (all top notch), New Start Again, Twerps, and Vanity Is Forever soundtracked many a drive through the Tasmanian countryside, a picture I still have trouble wrapping my head around. All three stayed on heavy rotation throughout the year and I was able to see Twerps on multiple occasions back in the States, including at the 40 Watt with the gentlemen behind Chapter Music, Guy Blackman and Ben O’Connor. (Talking about bringing it on back home.) Towards the end of my journey, I attended Sugar Mountain Festival, a celebration of music, visual art and community held at the Forum in Melbourne, highlighted by performances and contributions from artists like John Maus, Thee Oh Sees, Sun Araw, Prince Rama, Julianna Barwick, World’s End Press, Lost Animal, Vincent Moon, and Athens’ own Julian Bozeman. Quite the motivational start to 2012.
Grass Giraffes - Transportation EP – This was set to be the breakout year for Grass Giraffes, one of the more interesting bands to strike a chord in the 706 in a long, long time. Alas, things don’t always work out the way they are supposed to. Regardless, the Transportation EP is a remarkable document, and possibly the best release our town has offered over the past twelve months. Here’s to hoping 2013 sees the band performing more often than not. If you haven’t listened to this tape, get to it.
Staycation –This soiree was the brainchild of Payton Bradford and yours truly. In my biased opinion, it was, along with the Dirty Athens party at Caledonia, the best AthFest had to offer this year. Great, great music; lines around the block; too much booze; way too many people on stage; a glorious, high-speed train wreck of a surprise performance from Futurebirds; and a terrific sendoff for my aforementioned partner in crime, who had recently put in his notice of resignation as full-time drummer for said band. I will never forget what I can remember from this night.
Matthew E. White -I first listened to Matthew E. White in early August while killing time in a hotel room on the west end of Nashville, TN. I was wrapping up a pinch stint as road manager for a peculiar but rather disappointing promotional tour and was somewhat burned out on music as a whole. The warm soul of “One of These Days” and bold catharsis of “Big Love” served as a reconstructive tonic for my pessimistic state of mind. Listening to those songs, a small sample of what would follow from the best album of the year, Big Inner, I realized that there was little time for despair. I immediately bought into the gospel of Matthew White, one that spoke to the value of independence and the importance of doing things the right way. My interview with him in November for American Songwriter reinforced my belief. White is a transcendental musician in a sea of overnight attention spans, and an individual to whom you should pay close attention.
Hopscotch Music Festival and Moogfest – Let’s start with Hopscotch. I got to hang out with old friends from Chapel Hill and abroad. I saw Matthew E. White twice, once with a forty-piece band. Killer Mike. He was radical. I lived a nightmare during the Sunn O))) set, clutching my chocolate chip cookie and cold beer tight while Atilla scared the ever living shit out of me then and now and every other moment I have walked on the Earth. As always, Lambchop was stately, reminding me why Mr. M was one of my favorites of this year and why the band will forever hold a place near and dear to my heart. I saw the third year of a wildly ambitious “festival” go on without a hitch. At least I didn’t notice one. And I use quotations because Hopscotch is more than a festival. It’s a brilliantly curated gathering of some of best and brightest making and performing music today.
The same can be said for Moogfest. Seriously, tell me where else you can sit in quiet theatre next to a group of people dressed as garden gnomes and watch Andy Stott perform? Or listen to Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin improvise noise for close to an hour? Or see acts as similar and different as El-P, Black Moth Super Rainbow and Carl Craig in the same intimate venue over the course of two nights?
North Carolina, Raise up.
Angel Olsen - Half Way Home– Obviously, this record affected me primarily as a listening experience. Olsen is as good of a songwriter as she is a singer, and her name does not belie her voice. It also introduced me to the fascinating wormhole that is Bathetic Records. The Asheville, NC-based label is one of the most interesting around these days and home to acts like High Aura’d, Villages, and Lee Noble. Despite its reputation as a mecca for drum circles and adventure hippies, Asheville, with Moog Music, Moogfest, Harvest Records, and Bathetic, is becoming quite the incubator for experimental music.
Old(ish) Records – I listened to a lot of records this year that didn’t come out this year; Future Islands’ On the Water; the self-titled Rock-A-Teens album; Thee Oh Sees’ Cool Death of Island Raiders; Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972 and it’s companion, Dropped Pianos; The Social Network (Official Soundtrack); a lot of stuff by Bill Callahan and The New Year, etc, etc. The crown belongs to Alex Bleeker and the Freaks by Alex Bleeker and the Freaks. Please, please go out and buy a copy of this album. These are songs for cruising a ’93 Suburban in the dead of summer with the windows rolled up tight. You would either be listening to this or a spring of ’77 show or possibly Weld.
Benjamin Booker –This young man is a rare talent. Aquarium Drunkard hipped me to his Waiting Ones EP this summer and I have listened to it countless times since. An arresting performance of voice, guitar and hand claps recorded simply using his sister’s laptop. Even more fascinating when you learn that Ben only started writing songs at the beginning of this year! (By the way, he turned me on to Ted Hawkins. Watch Your Step is required listening for anyone reading this.) Booker is certain to make a big splash in 2013. I look forward to following his success. You should, too.
Traveling with White Violet – Perhaps the most fun I had this year was spent traveling with White Violet. #LAVaughan is a hashtag that will live forever. Observing the effect of medicinal lollipops on novice users will not be forgotten. Nor will watching Mitchel Thunderbolt smoke cigarettes on the roof of a mansion in Santa Monica within an hour of landing in Los Angeles. The Chicken shack in Pennsylvania and Andrea Salumeria in Jersey City also stand out. What else? Vaughan ate at Big Boy. Vaughan shopped for shoes. Vaughan scarfed tacos. Vaughan drove in the rain. Vaughan championed Biscuitville despite its inferiority to Bojangles’. You can read first hand about his travels here in the next few days. Good luck in 2013 and beyond, gentlemen.
Velocirapture – Hands down my favorite band in Athens, Georgia. Velocirapture doesn’t seem to give a damn. And they have a great time doing it. I have no problem with the fact that I can’t think of many acts that played more shows than Velocirapture did this year. It has been fun to watch these kids grow within their budding faction of the local music community, which includes additional projects, co-conspirators, and contemporaries like k (v) i d s, Blue Division, Sad Dads, the Rodney Kings, Muuy Biien, Ritvals, etc. Yes, there is an exciting movement setting roots under the surface of the Classic City. 2013 should see it rise tall through the cracks.