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10 Best Things I Heard in 2012

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Chris Cohen "Caller No. 99" [from Overgrown Path, Captured Tracks]

"The station above the tuning dial is a signal that never comes," Chris Cohen sings over steady, lounging snare clicks, while guitars swirl and bounce behind him. It's the headphone moment on an album full of headphone moments, the sort of song that sounds like it's about the very act of listening to music, scanning sounds for some resonance that will stick.

"It is my nature," Cohen concludes emphatically.

Mitch Freedom's Phantasmagoria [Live at Yucca Tap Room in Tempe, 9/25/12] The stage at the Yucca Tap room in Tempe is small. Enough space for a four-piece rock outfit, sure, but cramming a soulful mob of guitarists, keyboardists, percussionists, a funky bassist, and a quartet of singers takes some dedication.

Mitch Freedom, formerly of mood setters What Laura Says did exactly that one balmy night at the Tempe club, conjuring up a spacey take on Sun Ra jazz, neo-soul, and dubby space rock. And to make matters even more impressive, he jammed a quick set of mod-minded garage R&B with the emerging band Samuel L and the Cool J's - right in the middle of the expanding soul madness.

See also:

Up on the Sun: The Podcast, Featuring Mitch Freedom's Soul Jam Selections

North Dakota, EP [River Jones Music]

Post punk trio North Dakota paints big pictures. There's no sprawling poetry on the band's four-song EP (titled, you know, EP) but what's there - minimal and compact - is no less affecting. It's as direct and as sparse as the band's taut guitar/keyboard/bass/drums setup, and songs like "La La La" and "China/Japan" don't need length to convey the point, nor does "Thing," summed up with three voices in distorted unison: "Oh you may have wanted me/I never wanted you."

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.