All Songs Considered
10:08 am
Thu November 22, 2012

An Early Peek At Our Favorite Music Of 2012

Originally published on Wed November 28, 2012 6:29 am

There are just 39 days left in 2012, which means that here at NPR Music, we're locked in the final days of picking our favorite music of the year. On Dec. 5, we'll share with you lists of our favorite albums and songs of 2012, plus individual picks from team members and the All Songs Considered year-end discussion show. We'll also give you the chance to vote on your favorite albums. And over the rest of the month, we'll have much more: mixes and lists of station favorites, essays and news coverage about the year in music.

Right now, though, there's so much music to hear, from dozens of genres and places of origin, that we'll likely be arguing up to the final moments before we reveal the results. But we agreed on a few picks early, so we decided to share them with the folks at All Things Considered and with you. You can hear team members Tom Huizenga, Frannie Kelley and Stephen Thompson talk about six albums that will be on the list of our favorite albums of 2012 on the show (and at the link on this page), and listen to samples from each below.


Johann Sebastian Bach - St. Matthew Passion
Performed by the Berlin Philharmonic
Sir Simon Rattle, conductor
directed by Peter Sellars


Sharon Van Etten - Tramp


Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music


Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man in the Universe


Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE


Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Happy Thanksgiving. This is the time of year to take stock, to give thanks for those things you appreciate: friends, family. And if you're a music critic, it's time to look back at the year in music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE YOUNG")

FUN: (Singing) ...carry me home. Tonight, we are young.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW")

GOTYE: (Singing) ...somebody that you used to know. But you didn't have to cut me out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL ME MAYBE")

CARLY RAE JEPSEN: (Singing) Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy. But here's my number, so call me maybe. Hey...

CORNISH: That's Carly Rae Jepsen, Gotye and the band Fun. All dominated the charts this year. Were they really turning out the best music of 2012? Our friends at NPR Music have been hard at work figuring out their favorite albums of the year. And for a preview, we're joined now by three members of the NPR Music team. We've got Tom Huizenga, the classical music producer. Hey there, Tom.

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: Hey.

CORNISH: Frannie Kelley, writer and editor, covers hip-hop and R&B.

FRANNIE KELLEY, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: And Stephen Thompson. Hi there, Stephen. Doing rock and pop, I think.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Sure. Hello, Audie.

CORNISH: Well, you guys are in the midst of actually deciding doing all the fighting upstairs, right, about your favorite music of the year.

KELLEY: Turbulent time. Of course.

THOMPSON: These are difficult days for NPR Music.

CORNISH: And we asked all of you to bring two albums that you think are actually going to make the list, all right, a little - just a little preview. And I want to jump right into it. And, Tom, let's start with you. What made the list?

HUIZENGA: Well, one release I'm just been in awe of is a DVD release of a concert performance of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ST. MATTHEW PASSION")

HUIZENGA: The performance is by the Berlin Philharmonic. Pop this in your DVD player. Three hours later, your life will change.

CORNISH: Three hours.

HUIZENGA: It's a long piece.

CORNISH: What makes it remarkable?

HUIZENGA: Well, I - have you ever been to, like, a movie, a play, a concert where it's over and you're speechless, you're in tears, and something has happened to you?

CORNISH: No. But it sounds like...

(LAUGHTER)

KELLEY: Oh, my God.

CORNISH: ...this is the time.

HUIZENGA: I don't feel - I don't really feel joy.

THOMPSON: You've got to get out more.

HUIZENGA: Well, that's what happened to me after watching this performance. And what is special about it is this performance has been semi-staged by Peter Sellars, a radical director who's, like, known for doing things like staging Mozart's "Don Giovanni" in Harlem. He has actually required the choristers to actually memorize all the parts to free them up from looking at the sheet music, and they can actually move around on stage as actors. And this really pulls you so much deeper into the music, into the drama. And it becomes not just a performance. It becomes almost more like a ritual.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ST. MATTHEW PASSION")

HUIZENGA: I just want to make one thing clear, that, you know, religious convictions aside, I think that the - you know, this music, with all of its sweetness and its suffering and its strength, really, I mean, it tells more of a universal story of hope, of loss and of possibilities for the future.

CORNISH: Well, what's interesting is the kind of sweetness and suffering and emotion, all these words you're using are also words I've heard to describe your next pick, which is going to sound very different.

HUIZENGA: That's true. It's from Sharon Van Etten.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEONARD")

SHARON VAN ETTEN: (Singing) There he goes. He finally closed the door. I turn the lock feeling more confused than before.

CORNISH: How did she end up on your list, actually? I'm a little surprised to see her there.

HUIZENGA: Well, you know, man cannot live by classical music alone.

(LAUGHTER)

HUIZENGA: I listen to a lot of music. And this record is really just about tops on my list. And her first record was only in 2009. And now, with "Tramp," this record released early in 2012, I think that we're seeing an artist peaking.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEONARD")

ETTEN: (Singing) ...just walk away surprised. He loved you. Well, well, I am bad.

CORNISH: Frannie, what do you think about the year? I'm interested to hear what music you brought because I feel like there's always this kind of perennial handwringing, in hip-hop in particular, about the state of the scene.

KELLEY: I think it's the year of the vet, honestly. As much as there's been a whole bunch of talk about some really great newcomers, I think this Killer Mike album was probably the best.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNTITLED")

KILLER MIKE: (Rapping) You are witnessing elegance in the form of a black elephant. On terraces. Will I die slain like my king by a terrorist? Will my woman be Coretta, take my name and cherish it?

KELLEY: He's been around for over 10 years, sort of working in Atlanta with that Outkast family. What he put out this year, "R.A.P Music," he just came at it right, and he's just like fluent at rapping. He's also sort of become a man. He talks a lot about growing up. And you hear him grapple with mistakes that he's made and overcome and want to push his listeners to move with him

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNTITLED")

MIKE: The Lord give a load, you got to carry it like Mary did. That's why I'm giving honor to all these baby mommas. It takes a woman's womb to make a Christ or Dalai Lama. The world might take that child, turn that child into a monster. The Lord'll take a monster and fashion him a saint. I present you Malcolm X for those who's saying that he can't.

CORNISH: That's Killer Mike out of Atlanta. And, Frannie, who is the other vet you had on your list.

KELLEY: Bobby Womack with Damon Albarn of Blur and Richard Russell of a label called XL. On this record, too, even though it's a collaboration, you really hear Bobby Womack, like right up front.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLEASE FORGIVE MY HEART")

BOBBY WOMACK: (Singing) I could try to say I'm sorry, but that won't be quite enough.

KELLEY: And this is a guy who was behind the scenes for a long time. He was Sam Cooke's protege, and then he wrote songs for a whole bunch of people. You know, he wrote...

CORNISH: And he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, I think in only 2009.

KELLEY: Only a few years ago. Yeah, exactly. But - and then, you know, sometimes that means the end of the road. That's like the cap on your career. And this album proves that he's not done, he hasn't slowed down. He's paying attention to everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLEASE FORGIVE MY HEART")

WOMACK: (Singing) Please forgive my heart. It's not that the problem lies anywhere in there. I'm a liar. I'm in a dream.

CORNISH: You know, Frannie, what's interesting about hearing this is there's a strain of pop music, of younger artists trying to kind of mimic or emulate those soul sounds.

KELLEY: Get retro with it.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: And here, it's the reverse, essentially.

KELLEY: Yeah, Bobby Womack actually told WEEKENDS ON ALL THINGS CONSIDERED that he didn't recognize himself all the time on this album.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And, I mean, it's definitely an overarching theme. And it's a theme of - really, any good year for music is when you have musicians of every generation sort of reaching beyond themselves. And, you know, so much of my favorite music of this year, it is not content to be what it is on the surface. And, you know, one of the records that I brought that I think we sort of all agreed on the entire music scene as a great record is "Channel Orange" by Frank Ocean.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THINKING ABOUT YOU")

FRANK OCEAN: (Singing) A tornado flew around my room before you came. Excuse the mess it made. It usually doesn't rain in Southern California much like Arizona. My eyes...

THOMPSON: He's a guy who's been bubbling up for, you know, for a few years, you know, where everybody has kind of been operating under the assumption that he's going to break out and become a huge star. And that's what happened in 2012. My experience with this record sort of began with the song "Thinking About You," and I just became endlessly smitten with it, you know, where I would sing along with it in the car in a way that would just curdle all the milk within 10 miles.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: But, you know, but I just - I, you know, I fell in love with kind of the vulnerability of the song and the emotion of the song. In about two minutes of the song, he hits the bridge and there are these beautiful sounds kind of hitting underneath them that just punch me in the guts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THINKIN' ABOUT YOU")

OCEAN: (Singing) Yes, of course, I remember. How could I forget how you feel? How you feel. You know, you were my first time, a new feel. It will never get old, not in my soul, not in my spirit, keep it alive.

THOMPSON: I love the way he continuously really kind of tries to get a handle on love. It's this concept that's very uncomfortable and unfamiliar and sort of how to even...

CORNISH: And that is an artist who also come out as bisexual that (unintelligible) also remarked on a lot.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And that undercurrent definitely comes through in, you know, in some songs more than others. It's much more universal than that. It's a very easy peg to hang this record on, but there's a lot more to it than that.

KELLEY: Yeah. It was everybody's make-out mix this year.

THOMPSON: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: So, Stephen, this next group is not - it's not exactly something we would put on our make-out playlist, but it's definitely very energetic, a lot of fun. It's Japandroids.

THOMPSON: Yes. Japandroids, it's a duo from Vancouver, and it's called "Celebration Rock."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRE'S HIGHWAY")

JAPANDROIDS: (Singing) A northern soul in southern lands will always find his way to southern hands. She'll kiss away your gypsy fears.

THOMPSON: There's good music, there's great music, and there's awesome music. And the Japandroids record is the awesomest album of 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRE'S HIGHWAY")

JAPANDROIDS: (Singing) Hearts from hell collide on fire's highway tonight. We dreamed it. Now we know. Hearts from hell collide on fire's highway tonight. Now we know.

CORNISH: Hearing all of you talk about your picks, you're all pretty emotional about it. And I'm wondering how you actually decide what makes the cut. Frannie.

KELLEY: I mean, it's kind of crazy because you start - as you look back at the year in music, you start thinking about your life that year. You know, I turned 30 this year, and so I'm really into these albums where people are like older is better, like, something like that. (Unintelligible).

(LAUGHTER)

HUIZENGA: I've been to that.

THOMPSON: Yeah, me too.

CORNISH: For you, Tom?

HUIZENGA: You know, I just go for - Stephen mentioned awesome. I just go for awesomeness. I think of all the years I put mixtapes together for friends and stuff like that, and you need to start up a mixtape with something really, really awesome. I mean, it's almost like some kind of drug.

CORNISH: So it's the idea that you actually - you have to want to share because there's something...

HUIZENGA: Absolutely.

CORNISH: ...love, but you don't necessarily want to share it.

THOMPSON: Well, I mean, writing about music is a little bit like writing about your friends. You want to play matchmaker with it a little bit. And so, you know, you wind up investing music with a lot of feelings, you know, because getting people into music is - I mean, Tom used the phrase like a drug - it's like a drug. When I attach to a record, it's like falling in love.

HUIZENGA: Oh, yeah. Ask my wife about those type of things.

(LAUGHTER)

HUIZENGA: When the record gets played again and again and again and again and again and again.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, in some ways, music is so much better than people.

(LAUGHTER)

HUIZENGA: Speak for yourself.

CORNISH: Well, you guys, best of luck with coming up with the rest of the music that's going to make the favorite music of the year list. Stephen Thompson, Frannie Kelley and Tom Huizenga, thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Audie.

KELLEY: Thank you, Audie.

HUIZENGA: Great to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRE'S HIGHWAY")

JAPANDROIDS: (Singing) ...on fire's highway tonight. Now we know.

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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