Saturday, February 2, 2013

My Favorite Albums of 2012

I planned on taking a stab at writing an erudite and compelling take on 2012’s music by exploring the notions of derivation and decentralization in the modern music scene.  Unfortunately, dear reader, I can’t find the time to deliver the goods.  Fortunately for you, however, you can read a post on this very subject on my friend's Best of 2012 list over at joys of speed.   It probably would just make sense for you to read his music blog on a regular basis, period. 

Let’s just suffice it to say that many (but not all!) of the albums on my list are either clearly inspired by bands I have already listened to on a regular basis from yesteryear, or are artists that I have been following for 5, 10, or 20+ years. 

Besides, we spend the clear majority of our home music time spinning country/western records from the 1950s to the 1970s and also archival Latin American and African music from the 60s and 70s on the turntable.  I can tell you a lot more about what was going on in Nashville, Cartagena, Austin, or Lagos in 1972 than I could tell you about popular music in the U.S. in 2012.

1.       Olds Sleeper –  Head First and New Year’s Poem

*Olds Sleeper is a medium-fi home recorder from rural, southern Pennsylvania.  For efficiencies sake, I'd describe him as sort of a cross between Bukka White, Townes Van Zandt, J.J. Cale, and Tom Waits.  I know that sounds like crazy talk, but I swear on my copy of TVZ’s “Live at the Old Quarter” it is true. Olds put out two albums in 2012 and I included both of them.  [Cheating, I know.  You better get used to it as it happens a few more times.] He also records albums as Jellyspine Jenkins.  All of his albums can be streamed for free (and downloads purchased) at his Bandcamp site:

2.       Goat – World Music

*Voodoo fusion from northern Sweden.  They never appear in public without wearing goat masks.  Can meets Fela meets Sabbath meets…and so forth.  Take a listen to the album on Youtube and then buy their album on lovely purple vinyl.

3.       Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse, Hair [with White Fence], and Twins

*A tremendous trio of albums by this fine San Francisco-based psych-freak-garage rocker.  He is prolific and has the creative stamina to match the productivity.  He has had an album on my year-end favorites list for 3 years running.  I finally caught him in concert with his band (and White Fence) in May ’12 at the High Noon Saloon in Madison, WI.  They rawked.  Take a listen to Twins on Youtube.

4.       Bob Dylan – Tempest

*Yet another obscure medium-fi home recorder—this time from the Midwest.  Wow, some dude from the Iron Range in northern MN releases his first album after a lifetime of working at a grocery store in Hibbing.  What a late bloomer!  I wonder which customer inspired the song “Pay in Blood” on the album?

5.       Patterson Hood –  Heat Lightening Rumbles in the Distance

*I had been a bit underwhelmed by the last two or three Drive-By Truckers (one of my very favorite bands of the last decade) releases, but Hood’s second solo album is a dandy.  This is a restrained album (don’t expect DBT 3-guitar wailing) with great instrumentation to go with his descriptions of life, violence, love, sorrow, and the 'southern thang.' 

6.       Lambchop – Mr. M

*Another mellow, haunting, quirky, and wonderful masterpiece by this orchestral, countrypolitan Nashville institution.  I’ve been buying and digging their albums since 1996. 

7.       Guided by Voices – Let’s Go Eat the Factory, Class Clown Spots a UFO, and The Bears for Lunch

*I was at the “final” Guided by Voices shows on Dec. 30th and 31st, 2004 at the Metro in Chicago.  If you would have told me after that farewell 3-hour concert that the “original” mid-1990s GbV lineup would be releasing three great new albums in 2012, I probably wouldn’t have remembered as I was exhausted from the 100+ songs played over the course of the two nights.  Though maybe I should have seen the signs of reunification through the foggy haze of those last two shows--Mitch Mitchell and Tobin Sprout played with Pollard those nights for the first time in some years and everyone seemed to be having a grand time.

8.       Japandroids – Celebration Rock

*To be honest, I thought they would have a sophomore slump after a great debut with Post-Nothing in 2009.  I was wrong.  This was a cornerstone of my early summer soundtrack.

9.       Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

*Third album by Ms. Van Etten.  Produced by that dude from The National.  Striking lyrics and that voice.  That voice!

10.   Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

*I don’t use a Mac but this album still rang the bell for me.  Plus, triangles are my favorite shapes too!

11.   Bomba Estereo -- Elegancia Tropical

*The sophomore album by a Colombian band that I started digging after a trip to the country in 2010.  Electro-rock that pulls from all sorts of traditional Colombian musical traditions.

12.   Iris DeMent – Sing the Delta

*Her first album in forever.  Nearly 15 years?  I am still kicking myself for missing the local Prine/DeMent show in the spring.

13.   King Tuff – King Tuff

*You may know him as the singer in J. Mascis’ doom metal band Witch, but this is his garage band project.  There is a bit more polish this go around as compared to the King Tuff debut release a few years back.  Hooks and drooling guitars abound.

14.   Bob Mould – Silver Age

*”Return to form.”  “Best release since Copper Blue.”  “Helps the listener make sense of his authored plots for his WCW pro wrestling gig.”  "Mould seems to be enjoying rocking again." Believe the hype.

15.   Tame Impala – Lonerism

*A top-notch retro (with modern flourishes), atmospheric, psych voyage from Oz.  I was underwhelmed by 2010's Innerspeaker but really dig this one.

16.   Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers II

*The 1,447th album release since 2007 by these San Fran garage rockers.  This one has fewer rough edges—not necessarily a good thing but a nice change of pace.

17.   Jack White – Blunderbuss

*As JW’s appearance slowly morphs into Michael Jackson’s:  who will be his Elizabeth Taylor?

18.   Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

*She may very well need a chaperone.

19.   Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill

*Embrace the squall.  Could any other artist sing lines like “Gonna get a hip hop haircut“ and “I used to dig Picasso“ to such great effect?

20.   Dr. John -- Locked Down

*The Doctor goes deep swamp on this fine rockin’ album.  While I’m not a big fan of The Black Keys, Dan A. does a great job with the production on this one.

21.   Ray Wylie Hubbard -- The Grifter's Hymnal

*Seriously.  Get up against the wall, red neck mothers.  Stop your sons from kicking hippies’ asses and raising hell.

22.   The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth

*My favorite Darnielle release in some years.

23.   Shintaro Sakamoto -- How to Live with a Phantom

*By far and away my favorite Japanese sunshine pop-rock album of the year.

24.   METZ – METZ

*A booted kick in the head from this Canadian power trio.  My favorite “rock” album of the year.

25.   Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
*Really like this and it probably should be higher up the list.  My favorite since The Future.




  1. Hey welcome back! And thanks for the shout out of my blog. Will do some research on your list tonight....

  2. I've got some seriouis catching up to do on your blog but I've already been digging a few things I wasn't familiar with (Chromatics and Swans, in particular.) I got lazy about embedding links to tunes and vids on my list after #3. Sorry to all...

  3. Oh, and sorry about #25. I hope you can forgive me!