2012 was an odd year for me musically, and I largely blame Spotify. The only physical musical media I buy these days is the LP, and I really only do that to help touring bands that I like and to buy reissues of my favorite albums. I still buy a lot of digital-only releases too, but when it comes to actually listening to music, I tend to rely mainly on Spotify. (Or a few specific radio shows.) Especially at work.
And that’s a problem, at least in terms of building a relationship with an album. Because there is SO much music on Spotify, and because I always try to listen to something new or to older albums that I might have missed, I really don’t end up spending a lot of time with specific albums. In the “old” days, I’d have a stack of the same 5-10 favorite CDs sitting on my desk at work for weeks at a time, and I’d listen to them over and over again. Now, not so much.
As a result, my list is largely impressionistic this year. I’ve only got a handful of records that I truly spent enough time with to fall in love with, but I’ve got a bunch more that I really, really liked, and would probably like even more if I spent more time with. So I present this list as a movable picture. Lots of my honorable mentions easily could have been Top 10s, and vice versa. The only think I’m really, positively sure about are my top 5 records, which you should buy immediately if you have not done so already.
On to the list.
Barreracudas, Nocturnal Missions – I think these guys are made up of most or all of Gentleman Jesse’s Men. I don’t love Jesse, but this band put out one of the catchiest records of don’t-call-it-bubblegum garage punk this year. I could do without the recorded belch, though, fellas.
Beachwood Sparks, The Tarnished Gold – An amazing return to form after nearly a decade away. This album alone has me considering moving to California. Hope this wasn’t just a record to work off their record deal and then call it a day.
Calm Blue Sea, Arrivals and Departures – So happy this band got back together. A stunning album that should probably be in my Top 10 if I hadn’t spent so much of my year listening to louder, sloppier punk rock.
Diarrhea Planet, Loose Jewels – Fun, loud, stupid rock and roll. And they tour with like 4 guitarists. Awesome fucking band.
The Explorers Club, Grand Hotel – Another really wonderful record of songs that would have been huge hits in the 60s. Wish more people had listened to them in the 10’s. But it’s not too late. Go find em, and start with the excellent “Go For You.”
Forgetters, S/T – Goddamn good to have Blake back. This album is everything I hoped it would be, and probably more. I just wish it had come out earlier in the year, because I’m pretty sure if I’d listened to it more this would be rated higher.
Milk Music, Live at WFMU – Their only 2012 release I believe. This band has the potential to be fucking huge. Their set at the Empty Bottle blew me away like few bands have done in years.
Mystery Jets, Radlands – A very different record from what appears to be becoming a very different band, but I still loved this record, even if some of you (coughtTHLcough) did not. And “Lost in Austin” is possibly the most epic track I heard in 2012.
Steve Adamyk Band, Forever Won’t Wait – When you’re “only” my 4th favorite Dirtnap Records release of the year, you’re still fucking amazing. You people need to discover this band.
Toys That Kill, Fambly 42 – Another Todd Congelliere/Recess Records album, another record of hit after hit after hit of punch you in the face rock and roll. Not quite as good as his Underground Railroad to Candyland records of the past couple of years, but still awesome.
Ty Segall Band, Slaughterhouse – If the whole album were as amazing as the first 3 tracks, this would probably be near the top of my list. As it is, the rest of the record is “just” really good. But those first 3 tracks, man.
Likely the most beautiful record I listened to this year. And a record that likely always remind me of gray Autumn days driving in Iowa working for the Obama campaign this fall.
This is a band that deserves a hell of a lot more attention than its gotten lately. Each album keeps getting better, and this new record – released quietly a couple of months back – is easily their best. It’s textured and patient the way few albums are these days, but there’s real songs and melodies underneath it, separating it from so much of the “indie” these days which values mood and quirk over actual songwriting. Highly recommended.
Los Angeles’ Henry Clay People have truly become the Best Rock Band In America That No One Is Talking About. This band has not put out a bad album (or EP) in nearly a decade of existence, and managed to put out the best record of their career this year. And as good as they are on record, they’re even better live. I sure as hell hope that the band survives the departure of their drummer (who’s playing his last show with the band on New Year’s Eve 2012/13). America needs them.
Somehow only ranking as my third favorite Dirtnap release of the year, this album makes clear not only that Mind Spiders are Mark Ryan’s primary songwriting vehicle now, but that it’s some of the best music he’s ever written. I just wish they’d tour with the two drummers they use on the record. Oh, and the three new songs they played at the Empty Bottle the other night (12/29/12) promise more great things to come.
Much like my favorite album of the year, Dinosaur Jr.‘s third post-reunion record is, to my ears at least, their best, and ranks among the best records they’ve ever released. Jay’s tracks are as great as ever (and he wails as much as ever on guitar), but the real surprise to me is how good Lou’s songs are, “Rude” especially, which might actually be my favorite track on the album. Thank fuck this band is back.
I didn’t quite like On Mars as much as Are You Serious?, but Mean Jeans still managed to make the most fun record of the year. And they played one of the best sets of music I saw all year at the Dirtnap Records showcase at SXSW, where the crowd went so nuts (myself included) that we nearly knocked down the entire soundsystem and speakers. The venue actually had to call in extra security to handle us. I am proud of this, though less proud of the overzealous security guy who nearly killed me during Bad Sports’ following set.
In a year that saw him tour behind his 1992 Sugar class, Copper Blue, Bob Mould managed to release an album that is nearly that record’s equal. In fact, the two times I saw him this year, I preferred the portion of his set dedicated to the new songs than the portion dedicated to that album. In a year of welcome “comebacks” (though Bob never really went anywhere), this was one of the most deserved.
Redd Kross was one of the first indie/punk/whatever bands I discovered when I exited my metal phase back in 1991 or so (thanks Brad S.!), but I admit that after a brief love affair with the band in the 90s, I kind of forgot about them. The fact that their last record was in 1997 didn’t help. But then I saw them at this year’s HoZac Blackout Fest in Chicago, and then this new record came out, and I’m a believer all over again. Really hope they stick around for a while.
I haven’t found anyone that agrees with me yet, but this album sounds to me like the second album that The Exploding Hearts sadly never got to make. I probably listened to this record more than anything else in 2012, and will likely continue to listen to it a ton in 2013 and beyond. Would have easily been my #1 record of the year had Guided by Voices not put out one of the best records of their career.
GBV returned this year with three records. To my ears, each was successively better (though each had some great gems), but only The Bears for Lunch reached the level of “classic” GBV album. I personally think it’s the band’s most consistent, and best, record since Under The Bushes Under The Stars. And Tobin Sprout’s contributions may be some of the best songs he’s ever written. I cannot recommend this album strongly enough.