Friday, January 18, 2013

Favorite Records of 2012

We have another year in the books and as I look back at creating this list it was easy to see and say it was a strong year, at least for what I enjoyed.  There is just so much good music out there.  With a year like this it is easy to think that 2013 will be hard to top, but I'll be ready with ears and wallet at the ready.

The rules for this list are pretty simple.  Must be a full length album (no live records, best ofs, eps etc) and I have to own it.  As always these are my FAVORITE records of the year.  Steering clear of the “best of” moniker because music is so subjective.  A record might strike a chord with you during a live changing moment.  Two years down the road you'll always note it as an important record, but over the course of that year was it a “best of” worthy record.  This list is largely stuff that just found its way in to the player more often than others.  Some of them are really great REALLY great, others just “struck that chord”.   

Few that sort of were on the bubble.  The Smashing Pumpkins “Oceania” was far better than I expected.  Billy Corgan interview on Howard Stern greatly helped.  Maserati “VII”.  Usually contenders I found them dipping a little bit too much towards EDM for some reason.  There are some shining moments for sure, but I found it to be uneven.  Finally ZZ Ward.  I feel like I shouldn't like this, at all, but I dig it. 

Some not so much (ie What the heck went wrong?) - The Mars Volta, Tenacious D and sad as it is...Public Image Limited.  That, sadly is the worst record I bought this year. here it goes..sorry for formatting issues..blogger..well...anyhow..try to enjoy.

 25. Gary Clark Jr. - Blak and Blu


Gary Clark Jr made waves in 2011 with an ep and he seemingly didn't miss a single festival appearance.  That just lead to a wider audience and appreciation for his guitar work.  The album is a bit of a contrast from his ep though.  The slick/poppier stuff is average, but when he does the blues stuff it all but makes up for it.  It is too solid a record to ignore and Clark seems to have the money and time to put in a slick production.  The guitar work is what should pull you in and hold you though.
Check out - “When My Train Pulls In”
Previous appearances – First time

24. Sea and Cake - Runner

This seemed to sneak under the radar this year for many.  I don't recall seeing much press for it, or even reviews (then again I can't say I looked THAT hard either).  That being said the band has been around for almost 20 years and released 10 albums.  Thats right..ten.  The band release consistently solid albums that are mid-tempo affairs that don't bore you to sleep.  Vocalist Sam Prekop has sort of a soft air to his voice and all the instruments seem to find their place and feed off one another.  If you are new to the band this gives you a good spring board to dive head first.
Check out - “A Mere”  “Skyscraper”
Previous appearances – One Bedroom #16 2003, Everybody #17 2007, Car Alarm #15 2008

23. Turing Machine - What is the Meaning of What?

Many moons ago I heard music from Turing Machine and I was hooked.  I wanted more, wanted to see them live..heck even go to their web site to check em out..and nothing.  They were a mystery it seemed.

The band had other projects, most notably Gerard Fuchs was the drummer for Maserati.  Fuchs died suddenly and everything was put on hold, so it seemed.  Working on some older material they combined the work done by Fuchs to create this record.  A wonderful tribute to his legacy as well as the record that has a series of songs to be used during night time car races (commercials/movies etc).  The trio works guitars, bass, drums and a few occasional loops for a very infectious groove through out.

Check out -  “Yeah, C'mon!”,  “What is the Meaning of What” whatever the last tune is...
Previous List Appearances – This the bands first appearance

22. Bob Mould - Silver Age

A record I was actually slow to pick up for some reason was “Silver Age”.  I actually streamed it on line and by the third song I realized it was something I needed to buy.  Mould seems to be most at home with just himself and two other players, and that is the case here.  The trio locks in with tight and big rock riffs.  Sure there are solos, but nothing feels over done and wanky, you just know you've been beaten up and Moulds guitar did the beating.

Check out - “Star Machine”, “Keep Believing”
Previous List Appearances – First time for Bob Mould

21. Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet On Sky

As time passes I realize more and  more what a great guitar play J.Mascis is.  I know, its a no brainer for some.  The last few records still show the power and the “noise” the band can create.  If you are looking for a big “guitar” record, you need not look further.

Check out - “Don't Pretend You Don't Know” “I Know it Oh So Well”.
Previous List Appearances – Farm #17 2009.

20. Alabama Shakes - Boys + Girls

This was a huge year for this Georgia band.  Seemed to come out of nowhere the band not only got rave reviews for this disc, but for their live shows.  Lead by singer/guitarist Brittany Howard meshed a series of genres (southern rock to soul to blues rock).  Alabama Shakes might be new to the public eye, but if this is just a peek inside to what they are capable of fans are in for a terrific ride.

Check out - “Hold On” “Goin' To the Party”
Previous List Appearances  - This is the bands first appearance

19. and you will know us by the Trail of Dead - Lost Songs

Something sort of new/neat/unique is the band has released two records in a row where they are available via 2 cd sets.  One of them being a “sequed” version.  Sometimes you want that one after another attack, other times ease off the gas some, its hard to describe, but it works.   It takes less than a minute into the album opener “Open Doors” for things to just unload and the band is off to the races.  They are still the loud and rowdy Trail of Dead, but the lyrics and structure seem to have grown over recent years.  There is little compromise.  Resorting back to that “song by song” formula this is a freight train of a record that fans of their earlier stuff will find very easy to listen to.  Their strongest since their breakout “Source Tags and Codes”.

Check out - “Pinhole Cameras” “Catatonic”
Previous List Appearances  - Source Tags and Codes #5 2002.  Tao of the Dead #9 2011.

18. Sun Kil Moon - Among the Leaves

When this disc first came out it seemed like only moments would pass between the cd starting and ending.  Singer/guitarist Mark Kozelek is now five records deep under this moniker and some reviews said they felt this album was “incomplete”.  I don't have a lot to base this off as I am new to his material,but I find it to be a very openly personal record.  Most of the tracks are Mark's hushed vocals and a lone guitar and he paints the picture.  You know he stares at the floors and is very hard to read, but that is the charm.  In the end you want to tell Mark that things will be okay.

Check out - “UK Blues”, “Song for Richard Collopy” “Track Number 8”
Previous List Appearances – First appearance.

17. The Walkmen - Heaven

This record feels more mellow than previous Walkmen releases, but none the less compelling.  Surprised to see this didn't make many year end lists.  It is a very clean sounding record with solid focus on the vocals.  Phil Ek, who has worked with Built to Spill produced the record and there are hints of the sound here as well.  You might not get a party started with this one, but while you are chilling with late night guests, toss this on.

Check out - “The Love You Love”, “Love is Luck”,  “The Witch”
Previous List Appearances  -  Bows and Arrowes #13 2004.

16. Django Django - Django Django

Hearing the song “Default” on satellite radio was the catalyst.  Then seeing it appear on many year end lists further got my attention.  What hurt them, with regard to placement, was just the short amount of time I've spent with it.  The quirky/jangle pop to their sound sort of blends pop with new wave.  If there was an award given out to the album with most hand claps on it..this would win, hands down (pun intended).

Check out - “Hail Bop”, “Default”, “Zumm Zumm”
Previous List Appearances – This is the bands first appearance.

15. The End of The Ocean - In Excelsis

Ohio is a hot bed of music (well for me at least) this year.   The instrumental band keeps things on task and nothing seems to go on too long.  The guitars have a light ring to them on the opening track “On Floating” and they are one of the fewer post rock bands that come to mind that use a bit more keyboard sections.  We still get the quiet to loud slow burn, and the payoff as the tracks grow is always rewarding.  The album closer “All that Will Cease” might be a top 3 song of they year for me as well.

All they need to do now, play a local show for us!

Check out -  “All that Will Cease”, “Star Crossed”
Previous List Appearances – This is the bands first appearance

14. Baroness - Yellow and Green

A good friend of mine often says (with regard to double albums) “as a double its okay, but if this was a single record it would really be something!”  Case in point here.  Baroness spreads 18 tracks over two cds (Yellow and Green) and 90% of this very solid.  The band was hit with a heavy blow when their tour bus was in an accident in Europe.  Nine people were hurt and the band has been unable to promote the record in a live setting in the states.  With the hard news, the band did release such a solid record that is captured in all its hard/heavy and, at the same time, clean goodness.  As heavy at times as the heaviest found on this list, but smoother, or a bit more balanced at others.

Check out – “Board up The House”, “Take My Bones Away”, “March to the Sea”, “Green Theme”
Previous List Appearances – This is the bands first time.

13. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Alleujah! Don't Bend Ascend

The most surprising thing about this record is not that is good bad or otherwise, its the fact it came out with no notice.  Walking in to their concert in Boston this past fall it was for sale at the merchandise booth.  Easy to say I was not the only one saying “what is this?”  Perhaps not a new release in a sense since the band has/had played these songs live in the past.  None  the less, when you are not expecting something I can make it all the better.  Still has loud as they are mysterious gsybe are a band doing it on their own terms.  Sit back and dive in to to these epic sound scape's that are the soundtrack for the wildest night of your life.  Look no further than the 19+ minute opener “Mladic” to be that soundtrack.

Check out - “Mladic”, “We Drift Like Worried Fire”
Previous List Appearances – Lift Your Skinny Fists...#20 2000.

12. High On Fire -De Vermis Mysteriis

I like my music heavy at times, and other times really heavy.  Whenever High on Fire release a record I perk up.  Heck, I don't think they've released a record yet that hasn't landed in my favorites of the year.  Its a bit of the same old same old, bit massive swampy riffs and Matt Pikes howl, but that is what keeps me coming back.  Slap this one on in the car and try to NOT get pulled over.

Check out – Fertile Green”, “Samsara”
Previous List Appearances – The Art of Self Defense #7 2000.  Surrounded By Thieves #12 2002
Death is this Communion #19 2007.  Snakes of the Divine #10 2010

11. Mono - For My Parents
No secret here, I love me some instrumental/post rock.  Japanese band Mono consistently blow back my hair with each release.  For me they are the best at the whole “quiet to loud” sound scape.  They've gone beyond just the four of them and expanded to orchestral arrangements making for even more massive moments.  The four most quiet and unassuming musicians I've ever seen on stage continue to make breathtaking records.

Check out - “Legend” “A Quiet Place (Together we Go)
Previous List Appearances – One More Step and You Die #9 2003.  Walking Cloud..#6 2004
You Are There #5 2006. Hymn to the Immortal Wind #10 2009

10. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel.....

This is not a fluke, look at her last few releases, all top 10 for me each year.  Diversity dear readers.  Put aside whatever perception of her personal life aside and just sit back and enjoy this record.  This record has been done for a while, shelved or whatever for a few years, but she came back and continues to release solid records.  The piano work is as strong as ever and the fun, repeated “Hot Knife” is just a vocal exercise that is a great album closer.  She appears to be driven, lets hope there is not a huge gap between releases.

Check out -  “Valentine”, “Left Alone”, “Hot Knife”
Previous List Appearances  - When the Pawn Hits #5 1999.  Extraordinary Machine #4 2005.

09 - Mark Lanegan - Blues Funeral

Singer Mark Lanegan has one of my all time favorite voices in music.  It is very played out to say it is charred by years of smoke and whiskey with a gargle of razor blades, but its all true.  Mark can really howl at times, and as much as I long to hear him do this, his deep baritone just reaches out and grabs you.  Mark has been part of bands from Twilight Singers to Queens of the Stone Age.  The former lead singer of Screaming Trees really has grown as an artist.  Gone are the explosive rip roaring rock songs, replaced with slide guitars and lounge guitars.  Mark has yet to let me down on an release.

Check out - “The Gravediggers Song”, “Bleeding Muddy Water”
Previous List Appearances – Scraps at Midnight #14 1998.  Field Songs #7 2001. Bubblegum #18 2004

08. Deftones - Koi No Yokan

There is something about the big riff of “Swerve City”that opens the disc that finds me hitting the “rewind button”.  The buzzsaw guitars are here, and singer Chino Moreno's trademark howl, to bellow and back again voice.  Still a very heavy record, but it feels “cleaner” than other Deftones releases.

Check out - “Swerve City” “Poltergeist”
Previous List Appearances – White Pony #18 2000.  Saturday Night Wrist #14 2006.  Diamond Eyes # 17 2010.

07 - Japandroids - Celebration Rock

One could argue that 8 songs on a “rock record” hardly make for a full  length album, but I call bullshit to that.  The duo, who hail from Vancouver, have vendettas against their instruments.  Striking the drums like they owe him money David Prowse plays on a pretty small kit to get all that noise and guitarist Brian King must have stock in guitar pedals as he is not shy to use many.  Its loud, it is fast, it is noisy...heck a sweat breaks out when you open the cd.  Two records in, it is only getting better. 

Check out - “The House that Heaven Built” “Fire's Highway”
Previous List Appearances – Post Nothing #11 2009

06. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

A co-worker sent along a clip to me.  A solo male, with acoustic guitar and I thought “hoo boy here we go” but within the first few words he sang I wanted to know more, have more, hear more.  Kiwanuka had made a name for himself in Europe after he was hand picked to open for Adele and was then nominated for a Mercury Prize.  How this record seemed to fly under the radar to mainstream radio was very confusing to me.  Kiwanuka has a soothing voice and writes a terrific song.  Blending soul to rock and roll there is something for everyone.  Toss this on at your next gathering and if you don't get 2 or more people to ask you “who is this” I'd be stunned.

Check out - “I'm Getting Ready”, “Tell Me A Tale”
Previous List Appearances – This is his first appearance.

05. Sigur Ros - Valtari
Consistently in the top 5 Icelandic band Sigur Ros continues the trend. The one thing I can point to them in not being higher on the list was they didn't tour for the record locally. Another thing was this record didn't hit me right away as the others have. This is a “grower” of a record, and once the light bulb goes goes off. I'll admit I didn't spend much time on this at first, then one day it just struck that chord. This is the bands most mellow release I feel. Still awash with strings and soaring vocal tracks it did lack a little of that 'sonic thunder'. If you bought this and pushed it aside, check it out again, I think you'll be glad you did. Any “negativity” aside this band continues to challenge me as a listener (in a good way)
Check out - Varúð, Dauðalogn
Previous List Appearances – Agaetis Byrjun #1 2001. ( ) #3 2002. Takk #1 2005. Hvart/Heim #2 2007. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust #1 2008.
04 - If These Trees Could Talk - Red Forest

This mid west instrumental band continues to fly under the radar for most.  This album was a break out for them with the album garnering rave reviews and placing itself high on year end lists of web sites that focus on the style of music.  The songs are complex, heavy at times and stunningly beautiful.  If you are looking to dip your toes in to the “post rock” scene this is a good spring board.

They are currently a big “bucket list” band for me to see live.

Check out -  “The First Five”, “Barren Lands of The Modern Dinosaur”, “Red Forest”
Previous List Appearances – First timers.

03. Alan Evans Trio - Gloss Hop

Funny how a single “under a minute” you tube clip and be a tipping point.  The band was playing a local show (which I missed) but in this clip I was so curious.  I needed to hear more.  A basic “jazz trio” of drums, organ and guitar its a funky jazz record that seems to blend soul and blues.  Alan Evans, who is also in the band Soulive, shines with some simple drums lines that blend these genres so easily.

Of all the selections on this list, I'd honestly reach for this one first in mixed company.  A feel good  album throughout its instantly catchy.  Some may find it a bit of the “same old same old”, but its too fun to mind.  They are quick on the draw as well, new cd is coming out this year.

Check out - “Check your Lugnuts”, “Rum Runner” “Crooooz”
Previous List Appearances – This is the first appearance.

02 - The Sword - Apocryphon
Another home run from these Austin Texas based doom/stoner rockers.  If you are looking for some big guitar hooks the Sword is your band, on this and most releases.  It has a Sabbath feel as well, being a very heavy sounding, but still very clean.  Singer John D Cronise might not have the widest range, but his vocals are clear and perfect for the style.  The hardest thing about listening to this record?  Figuring out if you want to play air guitar, bass or drums.  Yeah its that fun.

Check out - “Cloak of Feathers” “Dying Earth” “Eyes of the Stormwitch”
Previous List Appearances  - Age of Winters #4 2006. Warp Riders #3 2010.

01.  Caspian - Waking Season
Okay roll your eyes..go ahead.  It is no secret, at all that I adore this band and I work to be their biggest champion but with records like this one hardly needs to.  Take a moment to simply sit and listen and you'll understand.  At the outset I wasn't overly crazy about it, but newer fans to the band really seemed to gravitate towards tracks like “Gone in Bloom and Bough”, the bands first with lyrics, or “Long The Desert Mile” for its ringing guitar lines that sound a bit out of the Edge's playbook.  Even trying to be critical I could find no flaws.  The tracks are the right length, the textures bring the listener to the peak of a mountain to the bottom of a dark hole and every place in between.  The band brings you in from the start and you go for the ride, just waiting for it to take off.  By that point you are so emotionally invested in the track your mind and body all but explode in relief.  It chaotic, and you don't mind.   If you are new to the band this record will grab you by the first spin.  Long time fans will notice some changes, that are all for the good.  The band continues to grow and rather than being pigeonholed they unleash ten tracks that your ears are just begging for.  Quit screwing around already will ya...there is still room to hop on board, but  this train is leaving the station.  Easily my favorite record of the year.

Check out – The whole thing..seriously. If need be Start with High Lonesome->Hickory 54, "Procellous", "Gone in Bloom and Bough" "Fire Made Flesh"
Previous List Appearances  - The Four Trees #5 2007.  Tertia #1 2009

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