Len’s Top 10 Albums of 2012

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Time once again for my annual review of the top albums of 2012 according to me. No apologies here…these are not the “best” albums of the year, simply my favorite:

  1. Babel — Mumford and Sons – They may have gotten a bit overexposed this year, but when you release an album as great as Babel the attention is well deserved. No other album got as much airplay on my Spotify account this year and I still find myself putting it on even as background when I’m reading or doing other things. Such a great album. Thank you Mumfords!
  2. Blak and Blu — Gary Clark, Jr. – After Clark’s EP last year I couldn’t wait for his first full-length album and it didn’t disappoint. He’s a genuine guitar god with a hint of R&B and I always turn it up and melt into the riffs.  Best debut album in years.
  3. My Head is an Animal — Of Monsters and Men – It seems every year a single song sneaks up on me and catches my attention and this year I couldn’t get enough of “Mountain Sound” by Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men. And guess what? When the album was released in the U.S. in April the whole damn thing was great! Any band that incorporates a glockenspiel is all right by me. These guys are definitely taking advantage of the indie-folk resurgence and as you can see from my top 10 this year I’m all in.
  4. The Lion The Beast The Beat — Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – A solid follow up to 2010’s eponymous effort, which was my favorite album of that year. Grace has a rock and roll voice beyond comparison and her band can bring it. And it sure doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous!
  5. Brilliant – Ultravox – Yes, that’s right…Ultravox! Reformed after nearly 20 years, Midge Ure and company released Brilliant in 2012 and it was…well…brilliant! It’s hard to recapture the same sound after so long, but Midge’s voice is as great as ever and Brilliant could easily have been recorded in 1984. Love it.
  6. Sunken Condos — Donald Fagen – For his fourth solo album Donald Fagen dances with the date that brung him and the result is classic Fagen. If you don’t like Donald Fagen you don’t like music. Sunken Condos is nine jazz-infused pop gems.
  7. The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond – It’s pretty rare for a movie soundtrack to get much airtime in my rotation but when this soundtrack came out I couldn’t get enough. Great songs from The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, Neko Case, The Civil Wars and Glen Hansard. And yes, two excellent tracks from Taylor Swift, whom I had no interest in prior to this but I love both of her songs on this record.
  8. The Sound of the Life of the Mind — Ben Folds Five – I’ll admit this “reunion” album is not as good as the old BFF or even Ben’s solo work, but it’s BFF and that’s good enough for me. There are some great tunes here including the title track and my favorite – Do It Anyway.
  9. Blunderbuss — Jack White – I’ve always been sort of luke warm on Jack White, but for some reason the songs from this album, starting with Love Interruption, hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. Shakin’ brought it home and it’s easily one of my favorite albums of the year.
  10. Halcyon — Ellie Goulding – By all accounts I shouldn’t like Ellie Goulding because frankly I’m not much into “dance” music and I am definitely not a fan of dub step or anything those weird deejays like Skrillex and DeadMau5 play. But from the first time I heard last year’s “Lights” I was hooked and Halcyon is a lovely mix of musical goodness, topped off by Ellie’s unique voice. Still not sure why she’s dating Skrillex though!

Honorable Mentions: Smilers — Aimee Mann; Little Broken Hearts — Norah Jones; Port of Morrow — The Shins; The Only Place — Best Coast; Synthetica – Metric; The Idler Wheel — Fiona Apple; Gossamer — Passion Pit.

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AFI #30: Apocalypse Now

“This is the end…this is the end, my friend.” — Jim Morrison

We’re really getting into this countdown now as we crack into the top 30 films of all time according to AFI. I suppose I may have some disagreements with AFI as we get closer to the top, but this is not one of them. Apocalypse Now is an amazing film that holds up well today even after 33 years. It is one of my favorites and it consistently ranks among the top films ever on nearly every significant countdown.

Apocalypse Now is the story of Captain Benjamin Willard, played by Martin Sheen, who is sent up the river in Vietnam to track down and “terminate” Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. Kurtz has gone insane and has created a cult of sorts and has taken the war into his own hands. The journey up river into Cambodia is dangerous and deadly but the trip itself helps set the mood for what Willard finds when he gets to Kurtz’ compound. The film, loosely based on the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, was directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

I suppose one could prattle on here about the major themes of the film such as the nature of war, the inner darkness of man, right and wrong, the Vietnam War itself, etc. I’ll pass on that and just say that the film is full things worth pondering. For me it’s mostly memorable for its incredible cinematography and a handful of scenes that are truly some of the most memorable ever shot.

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My favorite scene takes place as Willard enlists the help of Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore to clear a path for their boat to head up river. Played by Robert Duvall, Kilgore and his team storm into a village at the base of the river blaring Wagner from their helicopters and blowing the village to kingdom come…and then of course they go surfing. Duvall delivers two classic lines in this scene — “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “If I say it’s safe to surf this beach it’s safe to surf this beach!” I can watch this scene a million times and it always makes me smile. Bombs are going off in all directions and Duvall never flinches while his troops are diving for cover.

The images of “Vietnam” are beautiful and the battle scenes are marvelously shot. The places the gang runs into up river are like something out of a science fiction film, none more otherworldly than Kurtz’ compound with dead bodies strewn all over and native ritual dances taking place. Awe inspiring stuff.

There are several other memorable performances in the film — Lawrence Fishburne as Clean, Dennis Hopper as a crazy photojournalist who has fallen under Kurtz’ spell, of course Brando and Sheen were brilliant. Even Harrison Ford and Scott Glenn have small roles early in their careers.

Apocalypse Now won a lot of critical acclaim but it did not clean up at the Academy Awards, winning only for sound and cinematography. Only Duvall was nominated for acting (Sheen was robbed) and Coppola did get nominated for best director, losing to Robert Benton for Kramer vs Kramer which also won best picture that year. It was a good year for films, and Apocalypse Now was nominated for best picture along with All That Jazz, Breaking Away and Norma Rae. Being There was also from 1979 and it didn’t even get nominated! Still, for my money Apocalypse Now should have won.

Next up: Double Indemnity