Year In, Year Out

Every other day, I have to lie on my back with a hot compress under my neck in a darkened physiotherapist’s room, a place I am forced to visit three or four times a week because of a combination of factors: 1) rapidly advancing age; 2) a vain attempt to compensate for 1) by loading more plates on the bars at the gym; and, 3) an old niggling problem with the neck, which has something to do with decades of sitting in front of a computer. The lying down period is followed by pulls and pressures, not always gentle, applied to my neck, back and arms by a well-trained therapist.

Besides making this an opportunity for a bit of Schadenfreude for you, I mention my current neck-related agony because the one-hour sessions have been giving me some unplugged time (no phone, no iPad, and no iPod) to reflect on the music I’ve listened to in the now nearly ended 2012. It may have been an annus horribilis for those of us who watch or read about current affairs in India (some of us, sadly, have to do that for a living) but in terms of the music, it was a real bumper year. I got introduced to new bands from across the world; and I rediscovered some bands that I hadn’t paid much attention to in the past.

While lying down one day with a comforting heat pack simmering under my aching neck, I gave myself a project. If I were to choose just five albums from this year that I could choose from the zillions that I have heard what would they be? Which five albums of 2012 would I not want to be without even as we turn into 2013?

PLAYLIST FOR KEEPS The five albums I can listen to repeatedly (clockwise from top left): Banga - Patti Smith; Valtari - Sigur Rós; Locked Down - Dr John; Celebration Rock - Japandroids; Channel Orange - Frank Ocean

The five albums I can listen to repeatedly (clockwise from top left): Banga - Patti Smith; Valtari - Sigur Rós; Locked Down - Dr John; Celebration Rock - Japandroids; Channel Orange - Frank Ocean

It wasn’t easy to find the five. Over the course of four therapy sessions, I tried to think back and make a shortlist. In the beginning, what had to be a list of five albums grew to be one with nearly 20. The year being a good year for music, arriving at the final five took a bit of doing. But here it is. My five albums of 2012—the ones that I’ll definitely carry with me to 2013:

Iceland’s Sigur Rós features on many of my lists. For one, they top a list of the very few bands that I am able to listen to while writing; they make the most soothingly ethereal music that I’ve heard; and they define, at least for me, what the phrase ‘post-rock’ means. So when 2012’s Valtari came out on May 23, and I was lucky to grab a physical CD on that very same day, it was pure joy. Then I heard it. More joy. And then, a few month later, I was gifted the vinyl version. Joy, now, knew no bounds. Valtari is a brilliant album that takes the ambient, dreamy Sigur Rós oeuvre to a higher level. I can listen to it any time. If you want an intro to the band, watch the official video of Ekki Mukk, which means ‘not a sound’ in English.

Ever since I heard The White Stripes several years ago, I have this thing for rock duos. That thing for duos turned into a massive obsession with The Black Keys, the duo originally from Ohio and whose entire catalogue I have now managed to acquire. Sadly, although I would have loved to list their latest album El Camino, it came out in December 2011, thereby slipping out of the reckoning. But the Keys do show up on this list because I’ll list Locked Down by New Orleans’ R&B and keyboards legend, Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John. And just how do the Keys get into this? Well, Dan Auerbach, lead guitarist of The Black Keys, not only produced and mixed Locked Down but he also plays on it. Locked Down is one of those albums that can be put on repeat endlessly.

I listen to Patti Smith circa 1975 (Horses, her brilliant punk rock debut album, which came out in 1975 when she was 29) and Patti Smith circa 2012 (her latest album Banga, which came out this year, when she’s 65), and marvel at this woman’s genius. Smith has been a photographer, singer and artist and a key mover of New York’s punk movement of in the mid-1970s and nearly 40 years after her debut album, she still rocks. There’s a song dedicated to Amy Winehouse, another for Johnny Depp but what clinches it for me is the last track on the album, Smith’s cover of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. This album’s going to be on my playlist through 2013, for sure.

I talked about my love for rock duos, right? So Canada’s Japandroids with their new album, Celebration Rock, was a shoo-in. The ‘Droids make nice, punchy, rock, unsmoothed at the edges and whole-heartedly loud. I don’t pay much attention to their lyrics but I love their noisy sound. I got turned on to their 2009 debut, Post-Nothing. Now, with Celebration Rock, I’m hooked.
The final album on my list of 5 is the smooth R&B meets literate rap album by Frank Ocean, Channel Orange. Uncharacteristically for a hip-hop singer, Ocean outed himself as a bisexual this year. And while that may have got him publicity, this album is a keeper. Try Pyramids, a 10-minute song with a range of paces, and you’ll see why Ocean’s a musician to not let out of your sights.

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