Friday, January 18, 2013

Year in Music 2012 - 10 to 1

10. The BabiesOur House on the Hill (Woodsist). The 2nd collaboration between Cassie Ramone of the Vivian girls and Kevin Morby of Woods was much more enjoyable than the first with songs that sound at times like the Lemonheads, Pixies, Pavement, and Kurt Vile. With the recent success and higher quality releases as side projects in the Babies and La Sera, at this point you have to wonder what is the point of the Vivian Girls. But anyway, the highlights are hard to list because they are all so strong, but my favorites are “Alligator”, “Mess Me Around”, “Slow Walkin”, “Get Lost”, “Baby”, and “Moonlight Mile.”

 9. Of Monsters and MenMy Head is an Animal (Republic/Universal). Here’s an album that seems to contain every cliché I hate lately about music and the modern music biz, yet it stuck with me, perhaps because it also sounds so much different than virtually any other album that was released the last few years. Being from Iceland, the comparisons to Bjork/Sugarcubes will probably be too overdone. This band is actually a lot more like Arcade Fire, Stars, or the New Pornographers. Anyway, the highlights are: "Dirty Paws", "Little Talks", "King of the Lionheart", "Mountain Sound", and "Lakehouse."

8. The CribsIn the Belly of the Brazen Bull (Redeye Music/Wichita). A really good raw rock record from this trio of brothers, with a grungy throw-back sound similar to what fellow countrymen Male Bonding are doing. The highlights include "Glitters Like Gold", "Come On, Be a No-One", "Anna", "Uptight", "Chi-Town", "Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast", and "Better Than Me."

7. Guided by VoicesLet’s Go Eat the Factory, Class Clown Spots a UFO, and The Bears for Lunch (GBV Inc.). Yeah I know these are 3 LP’s, but I’m counting them all as one glorious 61-song album (I know I didn’t do that with Green Day or Ty Segall. My list, my rules). A few years ago Bob Pollard and the rest of the mid 90’s lineup reunited for a tour and these subsequent albums, just around the time I started getting into GBV. So many songs of note, but these are some of my favorites: "King Arthur the Red", "Hangover Child", "The Challenge is Much More", "Waving at Airplanes", "White Flag", "She Lives in an Airport", "Everywhere Is Miles From Everywhere", "Class Clown Spots a UFO", "Keep It in Motion", "Starfire", "All of This Will Go", "Doughnut for a Snowman", "The Unsinkable Fats Domino", and "Chocolate Boy." It's a tough call, but I liked their last release of the year, The Bears For Lunch, the best.

6. Sneeze I’m Going to Kill Myself (self-released on Band Camp). Here was yet another Band Camp discovery. This band is just pretty straight forward punky-grunge. It has a raw Bleach-era Nirvana sound to it along with early Mudhoney, but it also has sort of a Husker Du-esque “wall of sound” around the very straightforward songs. Most of the songs are brief and to the point. The highlights are “Canker”, “Bad Head”, “I’m Going to Kill Myself”, “Red Bullgirls”, "Park Her Road", and “Outro”.

5. Bruce SpringsteenWrecking Ball (Columbia). For a good part of the year, this was my my top album. It came out early in the year and stayed with me. Nevertheless, Bruce continues his string of good records, Magic, Working on a Dream, and now this. And Wrecking Ball may be my favorite of the last three. The highlights include "We Take Of Our Own", "Wrecking Ball", "Land of Hope of Dreams", "Easy Money", and "Shackled and Drawn."

4. Cloud NothingsAttack on Memory (ADA/Carpark). This was going to be the big growth record for the young Dylan Baldi and his band, with legendary Steve Albini producing. And that potential seems to have been fulfilled. it was a nice change of pace and brief with just 8 songs, albeit with one being nearly 9-minutes long. Last year's album topped my list so there was nowhere to go but down, but not too far. My favorites are "Fall In", "Stay Useless", "Our Plans", and "Cut You."

3. Bob MouldSilver Age (Merge).  Between the nostalgia with his autobiography and reissue of Sugar's Copper Blue, most would have been content to live off their past work for awhile. Or maybe because of revisiting the Sugar record, Mould returned with his most consistently good and rocking record since the 1990's. "Star Machine", "Silver Age", "The Descent", "Keep Believing", "First Time Joy", and "Briefest Moment" are my highlights. Also, Jon Wurster of Superchunk, et al, plays drums on this and kills it. One of the world's greatest living drummers and one of the greatest live drumming performances by anyone not named Dave Grohl that I've ever witnessed.

2. CrocodilesEndless Flowers (French Kiss). Their previous releases never really grabbed me as much as other similar releases in this genre did for whatever reason. But I really enjoyed this straight-through. Check out "Endless Flowers", "Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)", "No Black Clouds for Dee Dee", "Electric Death Song", and "Bubblegum Trash."

1. Archie Powell and the ExportsGreat Ideas in Action (God Land). I found this release like a breath of fresh air during the dog days of summer and it stuck with me all year. It's great power pop with a raw punk vibe that at times recalls the Clash. But mainly I think they compare favorably to Elvis Costello or Ted Leo. And the songs are great. Check out "Metronome", "Crazy Pills", "I Need Supervision", "All the Same", and "Sticky Buttons." But really go listen to all of it.

Honorable Mention

Gary Clark Jr. - Blak and Blu (Warner Bros.). With some R&B, blues, and hard rock background this comes off like Prince or Al Green fronting the White Stripes.

The Corin Tucker BandKill My Blues (Kill Rock Stars). The Sleater-Kinney magic isn't there any more, but this was a much better follow up to what I thought was a lackluster post-S-K debut a few years ago.

Craig ElkinsI Love You (MVD). The former Huffamoose frontman has continued releasing greatly underappreciated pop/rock albums. This is no different.

Ex-MagiciansCalifornia Grass (self-released on Band Camp). Another Band Camp discovery. Hard to really describe other than under the 90's alt/rock catch-all. Sometimes I hear Pavement, other times Gin Blossoms.

Heartless BastardsArrow (Partisan). I just discovered this band in 2012. Apparently, they've been through several lineup changes, they sort of reinvented themselves as a rocking "Americana" band in the mold of Son Volt or Band or Horses with influences that range from the Stones to Neil Young to 70's classic rock to Lucinda Williams.

HospitalityS/T (Merge). I preferred other similar sounding records better (Seapony, Now, Now, etc), but this was pretty good. "Betty Wang", "Friends of Friends", and "All Day Today" are really good.


Langhorne Slim and the LawThe Way We Move (Ramseur). Another solid folk-rock album from Langhorne, PA's resident songsmith. The title track, "Bad Luck", and "Two Crooked Hearts" are up there with his best songs.


John K. SamsonProvincial (ADA/Epitaph). 

Ty Segall & White FenceHair (Drag City).

Ty Segall BandSlaughterhouse (In the Red).

Matt Skiba & the SekretsBabylon (Superball). Similar formula for the Alkaline Trio frontman and his side project, with many tracks taken from his '10 Demos release. "Voices" and "Luciferian Blues" recall the best Alk3 songs off of From Here to Infirmary and Good Mourning.

The Soft PackStrapped (Mexican Summer). Every time I listen to this I enjoy it more. It just kind of got lost in the shuffle of new releases this year. Overall, a pretty solid follow up to their minor breakthrough from a few years ago.

Titus AndronicusLocal Business (XL). I'm enjoying this follow up to the '10 breakthrough, Monitor, more now than I was at first.  It seems like they tried to tackle more genres on this one to varying degrees of success.

Jack WhiteBlunderbuss (Columbia/Third Man).

Other Stuff I Checked Out in 2012

Amps For Christ/WoodsS/T (Shrimper), Fiona AppleThe Idler Wheel... (Clean Slate/Epic), Ariel Pink’s Haunted GraffitiMature Themes (4AD), Band of HorsesMirage Rock (Columbia), Certain People I KnowS/T (Count Your Lucky Stars), Delta SpiritS/T (Rounder), Craig FinnClear Heart Full Eyes (Full Time Hobby), The Fresh & OnlysLong Slow Dance (Mexican Summer), Ben GibbardFormer Lives (Barsuk), Grass Is GreenRonson (Exploding in Sound), Green DayDos! (Reprise), Green DayTre! (Reprise), Heavy BlanketS/T (Outer Battery), JEFF the BrotherhoodHypnotic Nights (Warner Bros), Mission of BurmaUnsound (Fire), New Multitudes (Farrar, Johnson, Parker, Yames)S/T (New Rounder), A.C. NewmanShut Down the Streets (Matador), Nu SensaeSundowning (Suicide Squeeze), Joey Ramone…Ya, Know? (BMG), Frankie RoseInterstellar (Slumberland), The ShinsPort of Morrow (Aural Apothecary/Columbia), Sic AlpsS/T (Drag City), SoundgardenKing Animal (Seven Four/Universal).

Previous: 20 to 11

Friday, January 4, 2013

Year in Music 2012 - 20 to 11

20. The Mighty Mighty BosstonesThe Magic of Youth (Big Rig). After slowly fading and going on indefinite hiatus in the early 00’s, the Bosstones have quietly returned with 2 very good albums – Pin Points and Gin Joints released in late 2008 and this current one released late in 2011, which are both on par with their best releases from their heyday in the early to mid 90’s. After nearly 25 years they are still pretty much the best around at what they do. The best tracks are “Like a Shotgun”, “Sunday Afternoons on Wisdom Ave”, “They Will Need Music”, “The Horseshoe and the Rabbit’s Foot”, “The Magic of Youth”, and “The Upper Hand.”

19. Dr. DogBe the Void (Anti). There may be fewer highs on this release than on previous ones, but this may overall be the strongest album overall from Philly’s Dr. Dog yet. “Lonesome”, “These Days”, “Do the Trick”, “Vampire”, “Over Here, Over There”, and “Warrior Man” are my favorites.

18. Screaming FemalesUgly (Don Giovanni). Her voice may be an acquired taste, but Marissa Paternoster plays guitar and writes songs that recall Dino Jr. or Sleater-Kinney with appropriate shredding throughout. Indie-rock god Steve Albini produced this and you can hear his influence with the rougher edges in these songs. The highlights include “It All Means Nothing”, “Rotten Apple”, “Expire”, “Crow’s Nest”, “Help Me”, and the seven-and-a-half-minute “Doom 84.”

17. Gaslight AnthemHandwritten (Mercury). The ’59 Sound and American Slang were going to be difficult albums to top and they weren’t able to do that with Handwritten. Nonetheless it’s still a good album. The highlights are “45”, “Handwritten”, “Mulholland Drive”, “Keepsake”, “Too Much Blood”, “Howl”, and “Blue Dahlia.”

16. Ty SegallTwins (Drag City). I was not as into Segall’s previous work or his many other releases in 2012, but I really enjoyed this one a lot. Think John Lennon with fuzzy guitars or Jay Reatard I guess. My highlights include “Thank God For Sinners”, “You’re the Doctor”, “Inside Your Heart”, “Would You Be My Love”, “Love Fuzz”, and “Handglams.”

15. Nada SurfThe Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (Barsuk). The last three Nada Surf albums have all kind aged similarly with me. I sort of like them at first but put them on the back burner when more anticipated albums are released. But I’ll be darned if they don’t stick with me longer than most. Then at year end, I find them higher on the list than I had figured they’d be. This is one is no different, but a notch below their last 3 releases, but still very solid power/pop. The highlights include “Clear Eye Clouded Mind”, “Waiting For Something”, “Teenage Dreams”, “Looking Through”, and “No Snow on the Mountain.”

 14. Parquet CourtsLight Up Gold (What’s Your Rupture?). This band seems like an old school indie rock band, recalling the indie/pop/rock of Pavement (particularly Crooked Rain) or Nodzzz or even a little GBV on some songs, but more like Sonic Youth or even the Minutemen on some of their noisier songs. My favorites are “Master of My Craft”, “Borrowed Time”, “Light Up Gold II”, “Stoned and Starving”, and “Picture of Health.”

13. Golden Gurls Typo Magic (self-released on Band Camp). This MD-based band combine shoegaze in a Pains of Being Pure at Heart way with an indie punk sound reminiscent of Sebadoh or Dino Jr. I even hear some Afghan Whigs on some of their groovier songs. The highlights include “Kid Tested”, “I Can See the City”, “Tidal”, "Uphill Fight", and “Excited”. 

12. PileDripping (Exploding in Sound). This music is not just for any old “Gomers.” While Boston’s Pile is heavy and raw-sounding their songs have more melody and groove to them than many of their peers' output. On some of their songs they take a while building up to the crescendo, but after they get there it makes it worth the wait. Check out “Baby Boy”, “So Hard”, “Prom Song”, “Bump a Grape”, and “Bubblegum.”

11. Soul AsylumDelayed Reaction (429 Records). I’ve always had a soft spot for Soul Asylum and think they are one of the most underrated bands of the last 30 years. And after you hear this record you think “where have these guys been?” This is probably their best album since Let Your Dim Light Shine. Dave Pirner and Dan Murphy are still writing really solid guitar-based pop/rock songs. Michael Bland is the official semi-permanent drummer and Tommy Stinson is now the official semi-permanent bassist (at least in the studio), a role he’s served for the most part since original bassist Karl Mueller began his fatal battle with cancer in the early-aughts. The best tracks are “The Streets”, “Take Manhattan”, “Let’s All Kill Each Other”, and “Into the Light.”

Previous: 35 to 21

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Year in Music 2012 - 35 to 21

35. Imperial TeenFeel the Sound (Merge). I missed out on this band during its infancy in the mid 90’s, but decided to give this new record a chance. Great indie power/pop in the mold of Ted Leo or Rilo Kiley. “Runaway”, “Last to Know”, and “Hanging About” are the highlights.

34. Diamond RugsS/T (Partisan). Diamond Rugs is a collaboration between John McCauley of Deer Tick, along with other members of Deer Tick, the Black Lips, Dead Confederate, and Los Lobos. The result is similar to the Middle Brothers release last year. The highlights include “Hightail”, which opens with a riff similar to “La Bamba” and then goes into a rollicking country rock number, along with “Gimme a Beer”, “Call Girl Blues”, and “I Took Note.” Since becoming a big Deer Tick fan a few years ago, this record along with the Tim EP was a nice placeholder until the next proper album.

33. CeremonyZoo (Matador). This album was much higher on my list back in the summer but started falling as I got into more new albums. Nonetheless it’s a solid old school punk record, at times even recalling early 00’s next wave punk bands like the Hives or Vines. It kind of tails off a little after the first half of the record though. “Hysteria”, “Citizen”, “Adult”, and “Repeating the Circle” were my favorites.

32. La SeraSee the Light (Hardly Art). This is the sophomore record from the side project of the Vivian Girls’ Katy Goodman. While it has some definite high points, I just didn’t find it quite as good as the debut, however the high points are really high. “Love That’s Gone”, “Please Be My Third Eye”, and “Break My Heart” are the high points.

31. Ben KwellerGo Fly a Kite (The Noise Company). This is a bit of a comeback record for Kweller, after he did his “country” record in 2009, which kind of lost me a bit.  This recalls his earlier releases more with a mix of finely-crafted pop/rock songs and some rockers. The highlights are “Mean to Me”, “Jealous Girl”, “Free”, and “Time Will Save the Day”.

30. Best CoastThe Only Place (Mexican Summer). I have listened to this album quite a bit because I still have a soft spot for Bethany Cosentino. I wanted to like it more than I did. Yeah I know the lyrics are kind of weak at times and the “verse, verse, chorus, repeat lines in verses” formula in virtually every song gets redundant.  It was produced by pop/rock wizard, Jon Brion, who has collaborated with Rhett Miller, Elliott Smith, Fiona Apple, and Spoon, among others, in the past. So the setup was there for a huge sophomore record, and it just didn’t live up to expectations.  Brion smoothed out the lo-fi rough edges and you were left with an album that just seemed to lack the punch of the first record. And that might have been ok if the lyrics had been better. Nevertheless, “The Only Place”, “Why I Cry”, “Better Girl”, and “Let’s Go Home” are catchy and sugary-sweet enough to have the harshest critics humming along.

29. MetzS/T (Sub Pop). Overall, I haven’t been as down with the newer hardcore bands, but this record was pretty good. The songs on these albums tend to start running together for me, unless I’m listening to a mix of different records. Throughout the year I was checking out various singles and EPs from this band and then was flabbergasted when I heard they were putting out a debut LP that quickly on Sub Pop. Anyway, my favorites are “Headache”, “Wet Blanket”, “Wasted”, and “Negative Space.”

28. Rhett MillerThe Dreamer (Maximum Sunshine). You won’t find any more finely-crafted collection of twangy pop songs than this collection. While it lacks the high highs of previous solo records, from front to back this may the most consistent solo record from the Old 97’s frontman. It also sort of sticks to the same musical thread giving the album a feeling like Rhett and a cast of friends could have banged these songs out in his garage in one night. “Lost Without You”, “Long Long Long”, “Out of Love”, and “Picture This” are the highlights of the usual pop/rock ditties. “Swimmin’ in Sunshine” and “Marina” are the kind of songs you could listen to on repeat all day, the latter with just mainly Miller and his acoustic guitar working their magic.

27. Green DayUno! (Reprise). This legitimately seemed a like a back to basics, return to roots kind of record for Green Day, similar to Warning or even the Clash’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope. It would have been fine and my preference if they had stopped here, but then they went and released two more records afterwards, neither of which is as solid front to back as this one. When you are going the “back to basics” route, the key is to release 10 or 12 songs that kick people’s asses and leave them wanting more, not flooding the market with similar-sounding albums. Back in the 90’s and early 00’s when Billie Joe had a lot of extra songs, they’d wind up being released as complimentary “side projects” under the names Pinhead Gunpowder or Foxboro Hot Tubs, but I guess these days the pressure is there to release everything as “Green Day”. If you prefer the sound of the band pre-Punk Operas, this will be more to your liking. Check out “Nuclear Family”, “Stay the Night”, “Carpe Diem”, “Sweet 16”, and “Oh Love.”

26. Now, NowThreads (Trans). This full-length debut album from the re-named Now, Now reminds me a little of Tegan & Sara but also fits nicely in with other similar female-led indie-pop bands like Stars or even Seapony. Some of these songs are just hauntingly beautiful. The highlights are “Prehistoric”, “Lucie, Too”, “Dead Oaks”, “School Friends”, and “Thread.”

25. Dinosaur Jr.I Bet on Sky (Jagjaguwar). Even as much as I love the guitar-playing of J Mascis and the overall talent of Lou Barlow, the Dino Jr. reunion albums in retrospect were probably not quite as good as we thought at first. You could argue that sonically they were basically like the 90’s Dino Jr. output, but with the original lineup back in the fold to add more interest and more fawning “return to basics” coverage in the music world. That being, said, no Monday morning QB’ing here….I thought the first reunion album was great, the second was good, and even this third album, while kind of covering the same territory is still pretty darn good. The Lou songs are really good and J’s guitar playing, while similar to other recent songs, is still J. I have a feeling this could be one of those albums we’ll revisit in like 5 years and be like, “Wow, that was a lot better than I remembered it.” The highlights include, "Watch the Corners", "Pierce the Morning Rain", "Recognition", "See It On Your Side", "Almost Fare", and "Rude."

24. SeaponyFalling (Hardly Art). Hot on the heels of a 2011 debut album that I really loved, Seapony returned in 2012 with a sophomore effort that’s just a tad disappointing. It covers the same ground with songs that are a combo of redundant or just not quite as good as most of the songs on the debut. You could probably write that about 90% of follow up albums I’ve heard in recent years (see Best Coast and La Sera previously). The highlights include “Outside”, “Tell Me So”, “What You Wanted”, and “Never Be.”

23. WoodsBend Beyond (Woodsist). Another year and another good album from Woods. While I think At Echo Lake and Sun and Shade were stronger, this was still a really strong release. The highlights include “Bend Beyond” which sounds like something from late 70’s Neil Young, “Cali in a Cup”, “Find Them Empty”, “Size Meets Sound”, and “Impossible Sky.” Like with most of these genre of records, the whole album sort of works together, so the highlights or lowlights aren’t as obvious.

22. Jimmy CliffRebirth (Sunpower). I’ve heard this album compared to Johnny Cash’s recordings with Rick Rubin and it makes sense. A legend beginning a “rebirth” of sorts being produced by someone who idolizes him, in this case Rancid’s Tim Armstrong. Cliff is now 64 but you wouldn’t know it as his vocals are still as strong as they ever were. Shortly after getting this album, I went back and listened to some of his bigger hits from the 70’s and it’s amazing how similar the vocals sound. The album is a mix of originals and covers (“Ruby Soho” and “Guns of Brixton”) and some songs co-written with Armstrong. The highlights include the aforementioned covers, along with “World Upside Down”, “One More”, “Outsider”, and “Ship Is Sailing."

21. JapandroidsCelebration Rock (Polyvinyl). For awhile this year this record was hovering in my top 5. But then better albums came along. It’s basically more of the same – driving post-punk guitar rock from the Vancouver noise rock duo. Even though they are covering similar ground “The Nights of Wine and Roses”, “Evil’s Sway”, “Younger Us”, and “The House That Heaven Built” will still have you playing air guitar with the best of them.

Next: 20 to 11

Previous: Part One