Saturday, December 15, 2012

10 Best Songs of 2012

Usually I only get a little bit of new music each year, and usually the "new" music I get actually was released a few years ago. But this year was a big exception; I found a lot of truly new music that I really liked. So here are my top 10 songs of the year (and yes, by "best" i just mean best at being what I personally like). The rules I used are: only one song per artist, must have been on a 2012 album, and due to bias I can't list my own music :). Going from 10th favorite to most favorite:

10. St. Vincent - Grot

The background vocals throughout this song are what make it so great to me. This is really heavy without being "metal". The lyrics are cheesy but for some reason are better that way. It's a song you imagine playing while making a sacrifice to Satan - but with a smile on your face.

9. Death Grips - Lil Boy

The only hip-hop song on my list. I like when musicians get outside their comfort zone, and the drummer for this group was one I already liked from math/noise rock bands Hella and El Grupo Nuevo, so it's really cool to hear him making something completely different. But the main reason I really like them is the rapper - the tone of his voice sounds angry and insane... in a good way.

8. Regina Spektor - Small Town Moon

I still prefer her earlier music, but Regina is one of my favorite singers ever. English is her 2nd language (she moved to NY from the Soviet Union when she was really young), and I think that's part of the trick of what makes her so unique. She's American enough to be as comfortable with our language as anyone else, but because she learned English differently than everyone else, she thinks about word usage, accents, etc. differently. There's so much subtle detail and quirkiness in what she does with her voice that is so addictive to me. Case in point: "But everyday begee-IEIns the saAaAaAaAaAaAaAame."

7. Exitmusic - The Night

I'm really bad at understanding what music people will like. This song is from this band's debut album, and I would have guessed they'd get way more popular over the year (their official music video for this song doesn't even have 40k views?). It's a fairly basic and catchy song but with really great textures in the sounds.

6. Animal Collective - Honeycomb

Animal Collective is at their best when they sound like a group of eccentric, off-balanced, drugged out geniuses trying to make the music for a weird children's show. Kind of like the equivalent of Dr. Seuss for music.

5. Cloudkicker - LA After Rain

I want to be him. I bought a guitar pedal because it's one that he uses. I bought Superior Drummer to manually program drum beats because it's what he uses. Like me, he's a bedroom musician - he just makes music on his home computer and puts it online for free. He doesn't ever play shows, and he's not trying to do this as anything more than a hobby. Except unlike pretty much any other musician like that, he's making some of the best instrumental music out there. The guitar tone in this whole album is just perfect, and the last 2 minutes of this song always gives me goosebumps. For some reason, this album is especially good to listen to while driving.

4. Drop Electric - Empire Trashed

The way this song evolves from something very minimal to something very explosive is pretty much everything that is best about post-rock in 5 minutes. And I'm particularly excited about this band because this is just from a self-released 4-track "sampler platter". They've now been signed to a record label, and I can't wait to hear what they do next.

3. The Mars Volta - In Absentia

Through college my taste in music got really really narrow - I was mostly only listening to 5 bands. Then I listened to The Mars Volta's first album, and it pretty much changed and expanded my musical tastes ever since. Their album this year wasn't my favorite from them, but I really liked how it surprised me. Over the years I have listened to them so much, that even though they try to experiment a lot and change their sound, I felt like I had them "figured out". But this album was not at all what I was expecting; I really like how the guitars have become such a minor role in this album.

2. Kishi Bashi - Bright Whites

I said this earlier about Exitmusic, but it REALLY applies to Kishi Bashi - I don't know how he didn't take over the world this year. I just don't understand how anyone could not like this song. When I first heard it, I figured it'd be something that would be stuck in my head for a bit but get boring fairly quickly. But instead, the more I listen to it, the deeper it digs into my brain. And it's maybe the happiest sounding song ever.

1. Sigur Ros - Ekki Mukk

I have a theory that there are 3 types of people:
1. People who are obsessed with Sigur Ros.
2. People who haven't listened to them enough to develop that obsession.
3. People who have no soul.
As someone who makes music, I often can't help but mentally dissect any music I hear into its separate parts and think about each piece in some critical manner. But that just doesn't happen with so much of Sigur Ros's music - it's like they just make one big piece of organic something that just fits perfectly together and you don't even think about HOW they did it. And it doesn't sound like something that could be made by human beings. Nobody else could make a song that is this long and this slow that seems to take up just an instant of time.
And I also hear shades of Sigur Ros in many of my other favorite songs of the year. It's in the big guitar sounds at the end of Exitmusic's song. It's in the vocals and build-up/release of energy in Drop Electric. It's in some of the ebow usage from Cloudkicker (not in the particular song above though). And Kishi Bashi's album has a very similar feeling to Jonsi's solo album Go.
Anyway, if you think you have a soul but aren't obsessed with Sigur Ros, go spend some time listening to them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Biggest Flaw in the Democratic Party?

This is a problem that I often wonder about, but I don't know what the right answer to it is...

A big (main?) principle of the Democratic Party is to tax the rich to provide more help to the poor in our country, mostly for 2 reasons:
1. Utilitarianism: the poor can benefit more from an extra dollar than someone who is already rich. So it is viewed as an overall good thing to set up society such that the rich may not be able to afford as many vacations, but in return more people are able to have access to health care and education.
2. Fairness: your success in life isn't just a matter of hard work. Those who are born into wealthy families are much more likely to become wealthy themselves: access to better education, a safer environment to grow up in, less stress and therefore easier to do well in school, family connections in business, etc. So redistributing some degree of wealth is seen as making up for natural unfairness.

Obviously, Democrats would laugh at a proposed policy to raise taxes on those making over $250k just to give more to people who make $100k-250k. If the goal is to reduce the suffering of poverty and ease the worst cases of unfairness, obviously we should focus on those who actually need the most help.

With that in mind, how do the poor in America compare to third world countries? On a global scale, wanting to tax the upper classes of America to give more to the lower classes of America is a lot like the ridiculous case of welfare for people making $100k. From the utilitarian perspective, helping end malaria in third world countries does more good-per-dollar-spent than making sure every American has comprehensive health insurance. And when it comes to fairness: someone born in a poor part of America can complain that they didn't get a fair shot at success, but not compared to someone born in the Congo.

Democrats often accuse Republicans of failing to have a global perspective. But if your political philosophy is largely based around alleviating poverty/inequality, and your solution is to focus on increasing the social safety net of one of the richest countries in the world.... what would you call that?