Monday, December 24, 2012

The 2012 Okapi Sampler!

We hear a lot these days about how globalization has made the world small.  Societies and economies have become vastly more interconnected, interdependent, and multicultural.  Thanks to a thousand new technologies, the planet is now fully digitized, wired, and Google-mapped, and people from around the globe can cross national and cultural boundaries in just a few clicks or through social media apps on mobile smart phones. 

Has globalization brought the utopian world that many of us who remember when the Wall fell had hoped for?   Yeah, um, pretty much not.   But, it has brought a sharing of ideas, experiences, and cultures in a way that's never been seen before, and the way we create, share, and experience music has shifted along with it.   The boundaries between musical genres are becoming as porous and blurry as the boundaries between cultures, and this year has really shown us all how big music can get when the world gets smaller.  In past decades, the American pop charts would allow a "world music" novelty here and there and we'd all dread the next play of "The Macarena," and wonder why exactly a dutchie should be passed on the left hand side.   Now, these cross-cultural musical phenomena aren't novelties, they're the new reality.   

Pop music in 2012 was defined by a South Korean techno-pop sensation, a Filipino-Puerto Rican from Hawaii who gave us a new Motown sound, a Barbadian hip-pop princess, and an offbeat Belgian-Australian singer-songwriter who delivered one of the best break-up songs in music history.  This is the year that cultures blended, genres fused, the world got smaller, and the music got bigger.  And, these are the Lair of the Okapi's favorite tracks of the year...

# 10 - Michael Kiwanuka - "Tell Me A Tale"

At first listen, "Tell Me A Tale" is a familiar vintage soul gem - maybe an under-appreciated Otis Redding b-side, or a lost masterpiece from a 1973 blaxploitation film.   Nope.   It's 24 year old Michael Kiwanuka's brand-new soul classic.   Michael Kiwanuka grew up in London to Ugandan refugee parents, and his influences come from far and wide, but he's straight up American soul.   "Tell Me A Tale" doesn't break new ground.  Instead, it shows us that there was still at least one unturned stone from the 1970s, and there is something deeply satisfying in knowing that there might be even more to be turned over.

 # 9 - Grimes - "Oblivion"

For a song called "Oblivion," that warns of the dangers of walking around on a dark night,  it sure is exuberant.   I get the feeling that Vancouver-raised Québécois Grimes (Claire Boucher) hasn't just conjured '80s New Wave and early '90s Rave with some liberal pinches of Bjork eccentricity and Cocteau Twins dreaminess - she is the inevitable magic of those ingredients.  "Oblivion" is bouncy, fresh and playful, but it's built on a solid, obviously smart (and slightly dark) foundation.   It's hard not to hear this without thinking that Grimes is the future of music.  And it's really hard to not click "replay."

# 8 - Antony and the Johnsons - "Cut The World"

Antony Hegarty is nothing less than a savior for the marginalized, the abused, and the forgotten - a Renaissance being for the sensitive souls of our world.   Antony was born in England, grew in San Francisco, and bloomed in New York City.   With the voice of a transgendered angel, and the hurting but defiant spirit of Nina Simone, Antony's music and projects have been damned near impossible to categorize, and "Cut The World" hasn't made it easier.   More a composition than a song, "Cut The World" is an incredibly intimate meditation on suffering the cruelties of this world - made big and beautiful by a collaboration with Danish National Chamber Orchestra.  ***The composition is gorgeous.   The video is disturbing, and if you're even a little squeamish, I'd advise you listen and not watch.***

  #7- A Place To Bury Strangers - "Onwards To The Wall"

A Place To Bury Strangers has done the truly impossible.   They have successfully resurrected the darkly enchanting soul of Joy Division, and made music that is completely relevant today.   Of course, in my opinion, Joy Division was, is, and will always be relevant to everything, ever.  "Onwards To The Wall," thankfully, doesn't sound like a cover, or rip-off.  It, somehow manages to actually take us back to that otherworld that Joy Division came from - with it's ethereal arrangements over an aggressive bass and slicing and melodic wall of sound guitars.

#6 - Rhye - "The Fall"

"The Fall" is beautiful.   It's just beautiful.  Sensual, tender, intense, sexy, honest, driving, elegant, and beautiful.  It's cool jazz, piano house, and the Quiet Storm.   It's everything.  As a kid, I imagined my adult life, in my New York City penthouse, with its sprawling city night view, with this song playing.   The vocals sound a lot like Yvonne Elliman meets Roisin Murphy, but the voice is actually Mike Milosh, half of the all-male, half-Canadian, half-Danish duo, Rhye.  "The Fall" is their first single, from their upcoming first album, due out in March.   I cannot wait.

#5 - Gotye (featuring Kimbra) - "Somebody That I Used To Know" 

About once a year, there is a song that is so inarguably good that underground music snobs, like myself, are powerless against loving it despite its pop chart success.  Last year, it was Adele's "Rolling In The Deep."  I challenge you to find anyone in the world who didn't have at least a slight obsession with this one last spring.  And, it's not a guilty pleasure, it's just a great song.  Belgian-Australian Gotye, and New Zealander Kimbra, gave us all a authentic vessel to channel our past and present heartache, and a really catchy chorus.  Go ahead.  Click play, and sing along.   You know you want to.

#4 - Tanlines - "All Of Me"

Tanlines exemplifies all that's good about Brooklyn's hipster scene - and there is a lot of good synth-pop goodness that comes with all of those bow ties and "ironic" mustaches.  Since the electroclash hype of ten years ago faded, Brooklyn (and Berlin) have continued to push danceable retro-wave into the future, and with the amazingly infectious hooks, deep into our brains to be replayed over and over and over again.   "All Of Me" has the urgency of a youthful crush on an hot summer day.   Oh, and a great dance beat.   

#3 - Santigold - "The Keepers"

Santi White, now known as Santigold, is the face and the voice of the new America.  The country's "Leave It To Beaver" days are long gone, much to the November surprise of a whole lot of well-to-do white Republicans.   Had they listened to "The Keepers" when it came out this summer, they would've been a lot less surprised, and maybe, just maybe they'd be a little more ready to walk away from their delusional American dream, and on board for America's bright future.  Santigold has been putting out awesome genre-fusing music for a few years now, but "The Keepers" shows us that she's taking her creative brilliance to a whole new level.  

#2 - Django Django - "Default" 

Django Django is a four-man outfit from Scotland, but I think it'd be impossible to listen to "Default" and not feel like you're on a dusty Route 66 road tripAnalog synthesizer sounds, 60's surf guitars, a driving bounce, and psychedelic-y vocals = one very happy listener. It seems a simple formula, but this default is anything but formulaic.    

#1 - S O H N - "The Wheel"  

I've spent the past two months trying not to be completely consumed by this song.  It begins innocently enough, with a strikingly minimalist opening, and then I become submerged in its truth.   It is a deeply personal message from the next realm about how to navigate this one.  Subtly intricate in structure, and simply and deeply profound, this song is just mesmerizing, to "the very last breath."  

So, there you have it.  The completely and totally biased 2012 Lair of the Okapi Top Ten.   I hope it's been fun.  I'm going to try to have a few posts between now and December 2013, but until the next post, here are some great songs that I just couldn't fit into the Top 10...

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - "Baby"

John Talabot (featuring Pional) - "So Will Be Now..."
Pet Shop Boys - "Leaving"

Lana Del Rey - "Ride"
The Scissor Sisters - :"Let's Have A Kiki"
Kim Ann Forman - "Return It"
Jai Paul - "Jasmine"
Matthew Dear - "Her Fantasy"