Saturday, January 5, 2013

WYMA Top 50 of 2012 (John)

I think it should go without saying that 2012 was a great year for music fans - the four of us who write about music we like on When You Motor Away have each come up with a list of our favorite records, and there is not a lot of overlap. To me, that's evidence that there is more good music available than there's ever been. However you discover it - YouTube, XMU, podcasts, or even little old music blogs like this - you had to be thrilled with the quantity and quality. I know I was. Here are the 50 records that hit me hardest in 2012. By no means is this considered comprehensive - there is no way I heard everything, or even everything that I might actually enjoy. I suspect I will still be discovering good 2012 music in, say, 2015. But we wanted to try to give you a sense of what we liked, and while hard to cull, these lists are fun to assemble. So here you go - top 25 in order, next 25 alphabetical...

1. Guided by Voices - The Bears for Lunch. This was the best record of the year – it had plenty of competition from within Robert Pollard’s 2012 body of work, including Class Clown Spots A UFO and Let’s Go Eat The Factory as well as Robert Pollard solo releases Jack Sells The Cow and Mouseman Cloud, but The Bears For Lunch was the fullest, best-sounding and most fun of the five. Four Tobin Sprout songs on one GbV record? As always, GbV and Pollard are characterized by generosity – you know, more is more. WYMA review here.

2. Dwight Yoakam - 3 Pears. As good as Yoakam’s been for over 25 years (and when he’s hitting his stride, there is not a better country singer, songwriter or showman), 3 Pears might be his best. He’s never been afraid to blur the lines between country, rock, pop and rockabilly and this record was no exception. He also combined forces with Beck, Kid Rock, Jason Falkner (he always has a great guitarist on hand) and created one of the best records of 2012 in any genre. If you like country, you’ll love it. If you don’t think you like country, it’s still probably worth a try. WYMA review here.

3. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires - There Is A Bomb In Gilead. Out of Alabama comes a dynamo, a hard-rocking force of nature who manages to combine punk, country and R&B to great effect. The Dexateens were really good, but Bains has upped the ante here – he’s a great shouter who can switch gears and sing straight-up soul music, backed by a great southern rock band. WYMA review here.

4. Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet On Sky. Well worth the wait, I Bet On Sky is already among my favorite Dinosaur Jr. albums. Sure, J Mascis does the same thing over and over, but when that thing is THIS kind of great guitar with J’s plaintive vocals, who can complain? WYMA review here.

5. Neil Young And Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill. We didn’t review this record – why would anyone need a recommendation from US to pick up the latest from Neil Young and Crazy Horse? But just in case you do, please don’t hold Americana against them… Psychedelic Pill is a tour de force, a return to great, great form. I remember the resurgence evident in 90’s Crazy Horse output like Sleeps With Angels with its 14:30 “Change Your Mind” – and I realize I should never have doubted these guys. For good measure, they have included two songs with over 15:00 of Young and Sampedro on guitar… at their best, they are as good as guitar rock gets. On this record, they are at their best. Since I don’t have a review, here’s a video:

6. Brian Olive - Two Of Everything. Olive is a former member of the Greenhornes and Soledad Brothers, and co-conspirator with Dan Auerbach on Dr. John’s lauded 2012 release Locked Down. But more importantly, he’s a heck of a songwriter and arranger who made one of my favorite records of 2012 – soulful and psychedelic, the Sly Stone and John Lennon comparisons I read both make sense to me. Check out WYMA review here.

7. Tame Impala – Lonerism. Speaking of psychedelic rock, while I have you on a bit of a psychic tangent with Olive, let me launch you into space on the wings of Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala. Long songs, plenty of reverb, and great guitars make this a record you can really get lost in. WYMA review here.

8. Strange Hands - Dead Flowers. This was my favorite of a very good lot of garage rock records I heard in 2012. Rocksteady really tapped into the garage rock resurgence with a lot of his reviews this year, but I got a few – Nashville citizens like Pujol and Turbo Fruits, and also from overseas. This Italian import had it all, from the retro “Every Picture Tells A Story” intro of “First Poem“ to the head-bobbing, foot-tapping racer “Acid Vision“ and the Johnny Thunders-style hard punk rock of “Anxious Pictures“. There’s not a weak cut on the record – far and away my most pleasant out-of-nowhere surprise of 2012. WYMA review here.

9. Trainwreck Riders - Ghost Yards. Terrific punk-influenced country jams – another of my favorite discoveries of 2012… songs like “Gypsy Stealin’” kind of make a case for the claim that The Meat Puppets, Pixies, Nirvana, Drive-by Truckers and Whiskeytown arose from pretty similar impuses. Okay, I’m the only one making that claim… check this out, if for no other reason than the gorgeous guitars on “House Upon The Hill”. WYMA review here.

10. Patterson Hood - Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance. I consider this record a minor masterpiece. I’m not sure Hood’s ambitions with this record were all that grandiose – some of the interviews I have seen seem to indicate he just felt he had to get some of these songs out. But sometimes the man, the material and the timing all come together perfectly. I think that’s what happened here. WYMA review here.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Recommended 2012 Music - Rocksteady74 (Scott)

Yes, it is the time of year when the When You Motor Away staff publishes their highly anticipated, limited edition (sorry, all physical copies were snapped up in the unadvertised pre-order stage) lists of recommended music for the past year.  For my part, I've decided not to make myself crazy by trying to rank individual albums from 1 to whatever.  Individual rankings take a ridiculous amount of time and are too subjective to meaningfully improve the reader's knowledge.  And what's the point?  There is very little payola flowing into the coffers these days.  We had to downsize our offices and make the hard choice between the conference table where we work or our pool table.  Now we trip over coffee cups and stacks of paper while we play pool.

Alright, now for the ground rules.  I have no conceit that this list is "the best music of 2012, no arguments allowed".  This is a collection of the music that I most enjoyed in 2012 and will continue to enjoy.  It reflects my taste, and what I've heard.  And to a great extent, what I've heard reflects what I was looking for.  Even the casual music fan will have to concede that I haven't paid much attention to the "best of" lists compiled elsewhere in the industry.  The albums are grouped into two pods for your browsing convenience.  The pods are ranked. but the albums are listed alphabetically within their assigned pods.  There are 51 albums in all, but I'm pretending that there are 50 because I had imposed a 50 album limit and I hate to disappoint myself.

By the way, a post about notable singles, EPs and labels will follow next week.

scottPod 1 (my 20 favorites, in alphabetical order)

Allah-Las, Allah-Las (Innovative Leisure) - This is a perfect distillation of British Invasion and California rock, supporting well-written (perhaps surprisingly dark) songs.  It is one of those albums I just want to keep listening to. So I do.  Our review here.

Being There, Breaking Away (Young and Lost Club) -  A happy meeting of '90s indie guitar rock and the modern fuzz pop of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Veronica Falls.  An unknown gem of an album from some guys with loads of promise.  I don't want to overburden them with expectations, but I hear a bit of Teenage Fanclub.  Our review here.

The Blakes, Art of Losses - The Blakes glide convincingly through various rock and pop styles while creating excellent songs of personal loss.  I remain perpetually puzzled that these guys aren't famous.  Our review here.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

JD's 2012 Favorites

I can't with any credibility call this a "best of" list as my new music listening was down this year. I had a crazy year at work, plus my family moved not once but twice because our new house wasn't ready when our old one sold (this approach not recommended for families with children).  I appreciate that my brothers here carried the load at WYMA while I was AWOL.

Of course, the philosophy here has always been that we don't pretend to be critics - we write about stuff we like at WYMA. Period. So all I have here is 20 CDs from 2012 that I like a great deal and will keep listening to long after 2012 is past.

It made me happy to get such high quality new work this year from some of my all time favorite artists - Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, the dBs, and Graham Parker and the Rumour. All four are major touchstones in my lifelong love of music, so to find them creating such important and urgent work at this point in their lives resonates deeply.

And I should also note that my list is ecumenical. As our regular readers know, all of us here at WYMA are graduates of the University of Notre Dame whose football team had a heroic year worthy of Bruce Springsteen. However, my top 10 list includes 3 bands with deep ties to the state of Alabama whose Crimson Tide will battle the Fighting Irish on January 7 for the national championship in a showdown of the two most storied and beloved teams in college football.

The Muscle Shoals (Alabama) sound combining rock and Southern soul is another major touchstone in my life. I so appreciate that Muscle Shoals ethos - always a groove with emphasis on the sound of a real live band of tight musicians, great songwriting, and singers who can mine the emotions of a song.  Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, the Alabama Shakes and Patterson Hood all have deep roots in Alabama and in their own varied ways each honored that rich Muscle Shoals tradition by making music in 2012 that struck deep. All three are more than welcome anytime in this neighborhood pub of ours at WYMA.  They'll find plenty of Muscle Shoals music on our jukebox, right next to the Clash, Bruce Springsteen, the MC5 and Fighting Irishman Van Morrison.  

And I should mention that I caught Patterson Hood's tour in support of the solo record and it brought me to my knees, hands down the best live show I saw this year. So we tip our Irish cap to our friends down South.

My number one favorite CD of 2012, and for pure joy the record I came back to time and time again is The dB's Falling Off the Sky. It is remarkable that a band could get back together after 30 years and make a record that not only stands up to their storied past, but start to finish is the best CD of their career. Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple are unusually talented songwriters and master craftsmen. They put their lifetime of knowledge into this blueprint for soulful power pop and how to make a great record. Listen to "That Time is Gone" - killer chorus, tasty guitar riffs, big bridge at end, swirling organ sounds, tambourines, vocal harmonies, clean and direct production sound - kids this is how you do it:

And Falling Off the Sky has song after song that hits the mark. I have and will always love their power pop sound. Big Star, R.E.M. and the Replacements are all gone, but thank god we have The dBs to make outstanding new music and carry the flag.

The remainder of my top 10 in alpha order:

Alabama Shakes. Boys and Girls.  Brittany Howard opens the record singing "Bless my heart, bless my soul, didn't think I'd make it to 22 years old," and with that a career was launched. "Hold On" was one of the most irresistible radio singles of the year in an era where radio singles don't come from unknown artists like this, don't sound like old soul songs, and aren't made down home on a low budget.

But the press went crazy for this record, and against all odds and trends suddenly "Hold On" and the Alabama Shakes were everywhere.  This all happened for one reason - Brittany Howard has an amazing voice and is the genuine article. In a prefab pop era, Howard sings her heart out without the benefit of Auto-tune, a stable of writers, wardrobe changes or any gimmicks. And she's backed by the right band.  Here's our full review.  And let me point out that our own John Hyland was one of the very first people out of Alabama to write about this band, here at WYMA on October 18, 2011, long before the record was released.

Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires. There is a Bomb in Gilead.  "Say a prayer for punk rock and say a prayer for me!" Lee Bains III is my new favorite guy - a rock and soul powerhouse who could just as easily be from Detroit as Alabama, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. The combination of a great voice, good taste and the right musical ingredients make this band and record a complete triumph. Another artist I might have missed had it not been for WYMA, where John Hyland has been shouting from the rooftops about these guys for quite awhile. The approach here isn't revolutionary, but it is remarkably well done - great guitar sounds, pounding drums, fantastic bar band vibe, singing songs about the Southland, the gravitational pull of home, growing up, and old girlfriends - you know, rock and roll. And who can't love a band that name drops Fugazi, Walker Percy and The Ramones? Ladies and gentlemen, Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, "Ain't No Stranger":


Bob Dylan. Tempest. You ever taken a long car ride with a friend going through something in his life that he has to get off his chest, and it's full of life's complications, so he unloads on you his trusted friend a long and not at all linear narrative? Listening to Tempest feels like that to me. This is Bob Dylan's 35th record but perhaps his most direct and honest. Engineer Scott Litt brilliantly mixes the vocals way up so it is as if Dylan is speaking directly to you. And it seems he is wound up, urgently trying to get all his thoughts out. Meanwhile, Dylan continues to tap even deeper into the rick history of American blues, folk and R&B that has inspired and haunted him for decades, as here on "Duquesne Whistle":

But while Dylan's words and cultural importance will always be a big part of the context for his work, what continues to floor me is his sense of melody and song structure. Here's my favorite track from Tempest, "Pay In Blood", an equally beautiful and disturbing song, and maybe my very favorite of 2012, propelled by an impossibly perfect tune: listen to "Pay in Blood" here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

REVIEW: Michael Rank and Stag - Kin

File under better late than never. This CD was released last February but I only recently discovered it when it started popping up on Best of 2012 lists. Not a surprise that I would like it as I was a huge fan of Michael Rank's notorious Snatches of Pink who ruled the roost in Chapel Hill NC when I moved there in 1988. In fact, Snatches of Pink were one of the very first bands I ever wrote about way back when I first started writing for a weekly there. They continued to play and make records intermittently from then on until recently. 

Kin, while Rank's first solo record, isn't a radical departure from Snatches of Pink, unless you consider "Country Honk" or "Dead Flowers" a huge detour for the Stones. Rank has a great feel for the swagger and grease of the best rock'n'roll and it's all here.  

This is my favorite from the record, "On the Bleed":

Stag is an all star cast of Tar Heels musicians - including two of my favorite drummers John Howie Jr. (Two Dollar Pistols) and Sara Romweber (Flat Duo Jets).  And as with anything Rank has ever done, there is a lot of guitar and drums here, but also fiddle and lap steel and some real nice country rock vibe.

The emotional vibe is not nice. The songs bleed with bitterness over the end of a relationship, again the stuff of great country rock. There is an immediacy to the writing and playing here that serves the songs well - it just spills out on the floor and grabs you by the collar demanding that you listen.

The title track:

Really good stuff. If you don't know of Michael Rank, but are a fan of Keith Richards or WYMA favorites Kurt Vile or The War on Drugs, you'll like it.

Introducing: Stephanie

Psssst! Hey, big boy, do you want to meet Stephanie from Seattle?  Stephanie aims to please, and a lot of Stephanie's stuff is free.  My less than rigorous research indicates that Stephanie is Ian Judd (bass), Matt Lawson (keys), Andrew McKibben (guitar), Wil Adams (vocals), and Robert Wolfe (drums).  They are part of a Seattle music scene called 'the Cairo scene'.  After a couple of demos in recent years (check out Bandcamp for free downloads), they recorded the One Glove EP with  local production guru Erik Blood at the controls.

The band terms its distinctive sound "swirl" and it wouldn't have surprised me if I'd been told that the music was recorded in the UK in the '80s.

Stream from the One Glove EP below.  If you click on over to the band's Tumblr site, most of the tracks can be downloaded free.

One Glove is released on Couple Skate Records.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Exotic Folk Rock Discovery: Norwegian Arms - Wolf Like A Stray Dog

Norwegian Arms is a Philly-based duo (Brendan Mulvihill, Eric Slick) playing some intriguing, exotic folk rock along the lines of Vampire Weekend, Walkmen and Arcade Fire (to my ears, anyway). This debut album, Wolf Like A Stray Dog, is the result of lyrical and musical reflections on a year spent in Siberia by vocalist/mandolin Mulvihill, shaped into an album upon his return to the states with Slick (who is also a member of Dr. Dog.), in Dr. Dog's studio in Philadelphia.

The album integrates Eastern influences in a slightly different way than the afro-pop of Vampire Weekend, but it's not dissimilar, which raises all kinds of questions about the commonality of rhythms and musical approaches the world over...

The record is intriguing and pretty charming - and you have every incentive to check it out, since you can stream (and currently download for name-your-price) at Bandcamp:

It's on Big School Records and you can pre-order vinyl, physical cd's and other merchandise at this link.

Physical release is due on Jan. 15.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Introducing: Safe Houses

Safe Houses is the new project of Dave Richards and Paul from the now defunct Scottish band Fiction Faction.  While the former band played energetic electro-rock, Safe Houses drives further into the synth pop realm.  Dave and Paul have made three tracks available for "name your price" download.  I think they show a lot of promise -- give them a try.