10. The Babies – Our 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 Men – My 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 Cribs – In 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 Voices – Let’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 Springsteen – Wrecking 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 Nothings – Attack 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 Mould – Silver 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. Crocodiles – Endless 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 Exports – Great 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.
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 Band – Kill 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 Elkins – I Love You (MVD). The former Huffamoose frontman has continued releasing greatly underappreciated pop/rock albums. This is no different.
Ex-Magicians – California 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 Bastards – Arrow (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.
Hospitality – S/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 Law – The 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. Samson – Provincial (ADA/Epitaph).
Ty Segall & White Fence – Hair (Drag City).
Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse (In the Red).
Matt Skiba & the Sekrets – Babylon (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 Pack – Strapped (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 Andronicus – Local 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 White – Blunderbuss (Columbia/Third Man).
Other Stuff I Checked Out in 2012