Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 20 Records of 2012

OK, it's a week or so early, but since there's nothing on my radar the next couple weeks, I figured I might as well go ahead and list my top 20 albums of the year.

(I included videos of songs from all the albums that didn't make my first half list.)


1. Lost in the Trees - A Church That Fits Our Needs

The tone of this album is just amazing, and the music is stunningly beautiful.  Written as a tribute to Lost In The Trees mastermind Ari Picker's mother, this album feels heavy but not depressed.  This is a band that deserves far more attention than it gets.

2. Punch Brothers - Who's Feeling Young Now?

When you write a groundbreaking album, what do you do next?  Most bands struggle with that challenge, because they basically try to do the same thing again (Mumford & Sons...cough).  Punch Brothers went in a completely different direction, and made an album far more accessible than the last, yet just as masterfully constructed.

3. Anathema - Weather Systems

This band used to be a doom metal band back in the 90s, but now there's really nothing about it.  It's more art rock than anything else, and there are some amazing stretches here.  The whole thing is solid, and includes some of the most memorable transitions of any album I've heard.  This thing just flows.

4. Brandi Carlile - Bear Creek

I used to think Brandi Carlile was OK.  I enjoyed listening to her stuff, but not to the point where this album was anywhere on my radar.  I went ahead and downloaded it, and I was knocked off my feet by this one.  Here we have Carlile and the Hanseroth twins attempting what is basically roots music, and they pull it off very well.

5. Rhett Miller - The Dreamer

Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller has released a few solo albums.  This one is very good.  It's a little more poppy and less raucous than his Old 97's material, and I think that's why I like it - there's a reason for him to have a solo project.  I like the Old 97's better probably, but this is a completely different style of Americana.

6. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Here

The Zeros' debut album was quite popular.  I thought it was decent, but not mindblowing.  This one is much better, with a strong revival feel throughout.  This one works much better as a folk/roots album.

7. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill

It's the first album of new material from the NY&CH configuration since Greendale ten years ago.  Some say it's the best since Ragged Glory.  Some even say it's the best since Rust Never Sleeps.  Either way, it's good.  And it might be the longest record Neil has made, as well.

8. Ben Sollee - Half Made Man

I saw Ben at Telluride Bluegrass in 2010, and I thought he was talented but boring.  Then a few weeks ago, I listened to Dear Companion, and for some reason, I was really, really digging it.  And then I heard his new record, and was actually a little disappointed that it wasn't as mellow.  But after repeated listens, I really like it.  There are some real gems here.

9. Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Bad Moon Ritual / The Magic Door

Yeah, I know this is two albums, but I'm putting them together because to me, they're both solid, but neither stands out.  It's like The Black Crowes became a jam band.

10. David Wax Museum - Knock Knock Get Up

This duo is so unknown that they have been self-releasing their records; this one was funded with Kickstarter.  But you know what?  It's really good.  This is just fun music, and David Wax has found a niche (indie folk with traditional Mexican influence) that really works.

11. Calexico - Algiers

This is definitely not the most well-received Calexico album, but I had the advantage of just discovering these guys from Tucson, so I didn't have any expectations whatsoever.  And on its own, it's a good album.

12. The Lumineers - The Lumineers

These guys seem to be this year's new folk sensation, and it's very fitting.  They're like a better The Head And The Heart.

13. Darrell Scott - Long Ride Home

Darrell Scott is one of my favorite songwriters.  This record is more country than his previous album, but it still has soul, which is something missing from mainstream country.

14. Gary Clark, Jr. - Blak and Blu

There is some really awesome blues guitar here.  There is also some pretty good R&B spread around.  He's like a much more talented, better singing, and more diverse Black Keys.

15. Of Monsters And Men - My Head Is An Animal

Another bit hit this year.  I like it, but it tends to get a little stale with prolonged listening.  All of the songs are enjoyable, though, but they could stand to be a little less derivative.  It will be interesting to see which direction they go with their sophomore record.

16. Patterson Hood - Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance

I haven't listened to Drive By Truckers much, but I checked this record by Truckers member Patterson Hood out on MOG, and it didn't strike me at first as being that great, but by the end, I was really feeling it.

17. Bela Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio - Across The Imaginary Divide

Being a jazz record, this one is hard to listen to when you're in the car, but the musicianship here is amazing.  And the banjo is certainly a novel instrument for a jazz quartet.

18. Justin Townes Earle - Nothing Is Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now

Not as good as some of his previous work, but there are enough keepers here to make it worthwhile.  I like that he's trying a new musical style.

19. Farrar, Johnson, Parker, Yames - New Multitudes

Initially, this was one of my least favorite Jay Farrar projects.  It stands up well with time, however.  Not as good as Son Volt or the Ben Gibbard collaboration, but it's a solid tribute to Woody Guthrie.

20. Great Lake Swimmers - New Wild Everywhere

I initially had this much higher, but it gets a little boring after awhile.  There are still some really good songs, though.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My best photos of 2012

It's that time of year when you start to make lists.  Music lists are popular, and I intend to make a few.  Movie lists are popular, too.  This list, however, is one I was working on today while editing some random photos: my favorite photos I've taken in 2012.

I have taken a lot of photos this year.  And I mean a lot.  Probably well over a thousand.  These have been on hikes, while Jeeping, and trips to various cities around the US.  Sometimes, with my relatively low-budget camera, I do a poor job capturing a memory.  But I like these ones (well, I like all of them, but these ones stand out).

In chronological order:

Sunrise at West Boulder Saddle
Date Taken: January 2
Location: West Boulder Saddle, near Peralta Trail here in Arizona.
Why I like it: Mostly I like the radiance of the sun.  This photo is SOOC, and I just love how warm the colors are.  I also feel like I included just the right amount of bush in the right half of the photo.

Cholla Forest in the Superstition Wilderness
Date Taken: January 7
Location: Dutchman's Trail a mile or so north of Miner's Needle, near Peralta Trailhead, here in AZ.
Why I like it: For a place so forbidding, this place just felt serene. This is one that is probably hard to appreciate if you weren't there.

Enshrouded by Clouds
Date Taken: January 16
Location: On the Superstition ridgeline, right above Hieroglyphics Canyon.
Why I like it: I originally intended to go hiking farther east, but I saw that the Superstitions were completely enshrouded in clouds.  So I decided to hike up into them.  It was an eerie feeling, but my favorite parts where when I was in a break in the clouds, and could get a shot like this.

Devil's Chasm
Date Taken: March 17
Location: Devil's Chasm, in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness, northeast of Roosevelt Lake, Arizona.
Why I like it: I just love the U shape of this canyon.  It was just a very unique place, and a remote one that relatively few people have visited.

Four Peaks
Date Taken: May 26
Location: Atop Browns Peak, northeast of Mesa, AZ.
Why I like it: I lived most of my life in the shadow of this mountain, and it took me until this year to finally hike to the top.  I had to endure two bee stings, but for a view like this, it's worth it.

Havasu Creek
Date Taken: June 9
Location: Havasu Creek, a couple miles below Mooney Falls
Why I like it: Ben is at one with the creek.  The colors and perspective are perfect.  I feel at ease just looking at this picture.

Delicate Arch side view
Date Taken: June 17
Location: Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, near Moab, UT
Why I like it: Everybody takes pictures of Delicate Arch from the north.  From the side, it only looks like an arch because of its shadow.  The shadow makes this picture.

Fawn at Dead Horse Point
Date Taken: June 18
Location: Dead Horse Point State Park, near Moab, UT
Why I like it: If you don't like this photo, you have no soul.  I was wandering around Dead Horse Point, and ran across a deer with two fawns.  One of them left before this photo, but I was able to make a pretty close approach and snap this photo.  The mother didn't seem to mind my presence at all; I got probably 10 feet away at one point.

Devil's Garden
Date Taken: June 19
Location: Arches National Park, near Moab, UT
Why I like it: I took a lot of pictures I like in Arches.  This place was my favorite.  While hiking to Double O Arch and back, I climbed up this rock fin behind Navajo Arch.  The couple in the picture followed me up there.  The view was incredible, and the best I have found anywhere in the park.  I also like the La Sals in the background, and that is Landscape Arch in the bottom left corner.

Corona Arch
Date Taken: June 19
Location: Corona Arch, west of Moab, UT
Why I like it: I snapped about a dozen photos of this giant arch, but this one turned out the best.  The sun is behind the arch itself, and I just love how its radiance dominates the background.  This is one of my favorite photos ever.

Canyonlands Sunset
Date Taken: June 19
Location: Grandview Point, Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, UT
Why I like it: Another successful sunset picture.  I love the triangle shape the light makes, I think because of that little notch on the horizon.

Bored Puppies
Date Taken: June 21, 22, or 23
Location: Telluride, CO
Why I like it: The dogs, duh!

Sun Setting in Chicago
Date Taken: August 16
Location: Chicago, IL
Why I like it: That building on the left.  With the sun coming in at an angle, the lighting looked amazing.

Home Run
Date Taken: August 24
Location: AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA
Why I like it: Because it went over the fence.  And because it looks like the batter's right ankle should have snapped in two.

The Narrows From Angel's Landing
Date Taken: September 2
Location: Angels Landing, Zion National Park, UT
Why I like it: Rock layers and the windy canyon.  And the clouds provided some nice shadows.

Near-Death Experience
Date Taken: September 2
Location: Angels Landing, Zion National Park, UT
Why I like it: Because he didn't fall off.  Almost did, though.

Ore House
Date Taken: September 7
Location: Ouray, CO
Why I like it: Normally, I get terrible night shots.  But this one turned out pretty good.

Fall Colors
Date Taken: September 8
Location: West of Lake City, CO
Why I like it: Most of the trees in this area are coniferous, with the exception of aspens.  And this thicket of aspens was great.

Ouray, CO
Date Taken: September 8
Location: Ouray, CO
Why I like it: The sun shining on these mountains with a cloudy backdrop made these mountains seem that much more majestic.

Sunset on Clouds
Date Taken: September 8
Location: Ouray, CO
Why I like it: I like taking pictures of red/orange clouds, and this is the best I've done.

Wet Rose
Date Taken: September 21
Location: Washington Park Rose Garden, Portland, OR
Why I like it: The dew droplets on the rose, and the unfocused background.  If you didn't know any better, you might think this was taken with an expensive camera.

San Francisco Peaks
Date Taken: October 13
Location: Jerome, AZ
Why I like it: Hard to get a good picture of the peaks from that far away. I love the early-season snow on the mountains.

Date Taken: November 23
Location: Seattle, WA
Why I like it: The sashimi was decent, but the lighting was excellent.

True Love
Date Taken: November 24
Location: Seattle Public Library, Seattle, WA
Why I like it: My brother and his wife-to-be in the most yellow elevator ever.

Space Needle
Date Taken: November 24
Location: Seattle Center, Seattle, WA
Why I like it: This is about ten feet from where that picture that sometimes shows up on my desktop background was taken.  I like mine more, though, because this one has clouds reflecting off of the museum.