35. Imperial Teen – Feel 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 Rugs – S/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. Ceremony – Zoo (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 Sera – See 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 Kweller – Go 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 Coast – The 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. Metz – S/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 Miller – The 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 Day – Uno! (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, Now – Threads (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. Seapony – Falling (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. Woods – Bend 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 Cliff – Rebirth (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. Japandroids – Celebration 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.
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