Sunday, January 6, 2013

HL's 2012 Recommended

This year had as much great music as any year I can remember. A ton of it was loud. Maybe I should have written more about it.

25.  Red Collar - Welcome Home (Tiny Engines)

Jason and Beth Kutchma came to Durham from Pennsylvania in the mid-aughts, formed Red Collar, and have been embraced by the rock and roll scene in these parts like only a handful of bands over the past 10 or 20 years. To be sure, there's a ton to like about a straight ahead American rock band finding a voice in a crowded musical space without feeling a need to do cheap, genre-bending stunts. Here's a live video of the album opener, "Orphanage", performed at one of the best places anywhere to see a show -- Durham's Motorco Music Hall.

24.  The Sword - Apocryphon (Razor & Tie)

There was a time, a time when the artisans of metal forged their weapons from the deepest veins beneath the mountains, with concussive rhythms, tribal drums, primordial riffage, nouns like "demiurge", and dwarves and goddesses and such shit as that. My last, misty recollection of such a time was the last time I played this album.

23.  Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth (Merge)

I don't care much about lyrics because most lyrics are for crap. So my question is, given that premise, does it make me seem more or less authoritative when I offer my opinion that (Durham's) John Darnielle is the best lyricist making music today?

I'm partial to his paeans for fallen musicians, like Dennis Brown and, here, Frankie Lymon:

22.  Gojira - L'Enfant Sauvage (Roadrunner)

This album is cold and violent, played with beautiful precision. The mood will evoke late-era Killing Joke, but with the technical skill of labelmates Machine Head. Here's a really cool video of the album opener, "Explosia", that gives a feel for the hard-touring band's incendiary live shows.

21.  Museum Mouth - Sexy, But Not Happy

This trio, from the lovely coastal village of Southport, North Carolina, smacked me in the face early last year with their free-download album of taut, angsty indie rock. I often think to myself, "what the hell is meant by 'indie rock'?" I guess one acceptable answer is that, if it's really good, it sounds like this.

Get More:

20.  John the Conqueror - s/t (Alive/Naturalsound Records)

This band is two-thirds Mississippi and one-third Philly, and on this album (reviewed a couple of months ago by John the Founder) you'll hear a perfect mix of delta blues soul and grit. I got a chance to see them in Raleigh in November, and it was easily one of the best shows I saw in oh-12. As if Pierre Moore's distorted blues guitar and soulful voice weren't enough to convince you, the influences shown by their choice of live covers mark them as fully authentic. Don't miss them if they hit your town. From the label that gave us the Bloody Hollies.

Here's a tune that's not on the album (don't miss John's review, linked above)

19.  The Holy Mess - Cande Ru Las Degas (Red Scare Industries)

 Although this terrific Philadelphia punk band (this will be a recurring theme henceforward) has been around for five years, with some well-received splits/EPs, this is their first full-length, and it might ought to be ranked quite a bit higher than 19. Although compared to earlier stuff it might seem like they sanded some of the edges on a few songs, this is still plenty aggressive, with an excellent twin-guitar/twin vocal thing happening. I've always been partial to punk bands that actually have good guitarists who can play economical but skillful leads, and that's just what THM brings. And I don't want to understate the quality of these songs by overstating the noise factor. One might say these guys sound like the Gaslight Anthem playing angry punk music. How's that?

I can't find any good videos, so I'm linking you to their page at, where you can listen to a bunch of songs on this record. There's probably a way to embed this, but I can't figure it out and Punknews deserves the hits anyway.

18.  Sun Kil Moon - Among the Leaves (Caldo Verde)

I love everything Mark Kozelek does, and I loved this album; not as much, though, as his other Sun Kil Moon non-covers albums. The awesome "Live at Lincoln Hall" bonus disk I got with it in my order from Kozelek's record label more than made up for my slightly lower level of non-disappointment.

17.  Future of the Left - The Plot Against Common Sense (Xtra Mile)

Andy Falkous has gotten more than a ration of crap for aiming his satire at 'easy targets' on this album, to which, if I were his speechwriter, I'd have him respond, "Eh?" Are we worse off as a people because Falco has not bequeathed us with heartfelt elegies for failed states and fallen heroes? I might answer yes, but only if such songs were part of a concept album dedicated to the singular poetic genius of one Bono Vox.

Until then, we'll have to survive on lyrics like this, from "Robocop 4 (Fuck Off Robocop)":

Pirates of the Caribbean 47
Johnny Depp stars as the robot pirate who loses his wife in a game of poker
And tries to win her back with hilarious consequences.
At least Harry Potter has a proper story in the sense that the characters crave an ending
If only to release poor Billy Corgan from his role as the titular character's nemesis.

16.  Joyce Manor - Of All These Things I Will Soon Grow Tired (Asian Man Records)

From Torrance, California, this is truly one of the most exciting bands I've heard in the past 5 or 10 years. Last year's self-titled debut was on the year-end best-of list of anyone who took the 18 minutes to listen to it. This one, at 9 songs and just over 13 minutes, is so jam packed with fully-realized pop-punk hooks that it would bring a tear to the eye of Robert Pollard. Extra credit for cover-song of the year in the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star."

15.  Tame Impala - Lonerism (Modular Records)

This is one of my year-end pickups to see what all the ruckus is about, and now I know. This is mind-blowingly good, from a band with a vision. Don't be lulled into thinking this is just neo-psychedelia. It's pretty much neo-everything great from the past 40 years.

14.  Ty Segall Band - Slaughterhouse (In the Red)

Ty's album Melted made my best-of list for '10, and his bandmate Mikal Cronin's solo record made my list last year. I saw them live this year (and will again next month) and was speechless. This is louder, faster, and more distorted, and in my opinion is Ty's best effort yet. Can he keep it up? Sounds like he plans to try.

13.  High On Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis (Koch Records)

It was an up-and-down year for Matt Pike. He re-released the landmark album Dopesmoker by his old band Sleep, had to cancel a European tour for rehab, and it appears successfully completed his course and is preparing to go back on the road. And then there was this phenomenal album. Released in March, I'm pretty sure it was never out of my car stereo for more than a few hours at a time. The most gratifying thing about this album for me is that Pike has surrounded himself with superior musicians at a point when he himself seems to be reaching the height of his powers as a guitarist. This record is a wonderful way to experience that.

12.  Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory (ADA/Carpark Records)

Cleveland's Dylan Baldi is barely old enough to drink and he's already reflecting ruefully on his shortcomings. I was content to let my own shortcomings ferment a good additional ten years before constant despair took the wheel in my life. Of course, I also lacked the wherewithal to set my regrets to slashing punk music. This album was released early last year, so it's nice to see folks faithfully coming back to it at year-end best-of list time. From the the Pixies-like vocal harmonies of "Fall In" to Trail of Dead-influenced guitar stylings throughout, there are a thousand things on this record to make one excited about what's to come from this band.

11.  Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph)

I've gotten to that age where I have to be careful about what's on the stereo when I turn off the car. This is because the next time I crank the car, I might have a client or some lameass colleague in the passenger seat. If, for example, I had my new Converge CD on at the time I turned off the car, and was playing it at Converge-appropriate volume, well, the sudden reanimation of that music is likely to result in a Depends-soiling event. This likely will bode ill for the college aspirations of my children. I think this is Converge's eighth or ninth album, and I don't have all of them. This is my favorite of the ones I do have. It is sonic assault and battery.

"Sadness Comes Home", with its nasty Black Oak Arkansas riff at the beginning and end, bookending a descent into deepest hell, might be my favorite Converge song ever. See for yourself.

10.  Luther - Let's Get You Somewhere Else (Chunksaah Records)

Now we're getting into that part of the list where, really, all of these albums have gotten serious consideration for number one -- and all of them have been ranked as the AOY by someone I think a good deal of.  Luther is a four piece punk/pop band out of Philadelphia that released this record in October. It's your basic gimmick-free guitar/bass/drums/excellent vocals setup, just done better than about anyone despite that you might never have heard of them. I hear all kinds of things I like in these songs. Some make me think of old Buffalo Tom, some of Red Collar, even, from time to time, The Hold Steady. See if you don't hear some HS in the nearly perfect "The Glory Bees", one of the best songs of the year.

9.  Classics of Love - s/t (Asian Man Records)

If you're a punk rock completist, somewhere in that box of shit upstairs you still have a cassette or even a vinyl version of Operation Ivy's 1989 masterpiece, Energy. It was a pillar of the ska-core/third wave genre, and has been an object of inspiration to people making good and bad punk and ska music ever since. Hell, the first Green Day album covers an Opivy song. After touring Energy, the band split. Some of them went on to form Rancid. Others just went on. Vocalist Jesse Michaels, responsible for the band's angry but thoughtful political lyrics, eventually left the scene entirely. Here's what's Operation Ivy listing says about Michaels at this very moment: "Michaels went on to sing with Big Rig before leaving music; varying accounts hold that he became either a Buddhist monk or a Central American missionary, and may have returned to the U.S. to work for Lookout."

In 2009, in Emeryville, California, a band called Hard Girls teamed up with a singer to make a recording under the name Classics of Love. That singer's name is Jesse Michaels. In 2012 the band released a self-titled LP that is nothing short of a revelation. While it has elements of ska, it's really just a punk rock record. A perfect punk rock record.


8.  Sidekicks - Awkward Breeds (Red Scare Industries)

This Cleveland band's tremendous 2012 offering was released back in February, but I didn't pick it up until a month or so ago. If it weren't for the unyielding scheduling of our dictatorial leader, John, I swear in a couple of weeks this would be number one with a bullet. Despite the glut of year end music that I bought to make sure I wasn't missing anything, this album has been in the most constant rotation since I first heard it. Although there are a couple of really nice songs on here that easily could have replaced tracks on Pinkerton, it is a terrible mistake to lump these guys in with that whole Weezer apostolate. The best songs on here sound nothing like that band, and although I run the risk of being smited for saying so on this site, there are points here where I'm most reminded of Will Johnson circa Redo the Stacks. Guitarist/singer Steve Ciolek's voice is a thing of rare quality, and the bright, crashing chords and soaring leads will make you scratch your head and wonder why it is that we don't hear this when we turn on the radio. I don't care who you listen to, you will love this album.

7.  Torche - Harmonicraft (Volcom)

I actually did write a glowing review of this album back in May, and a bunch of album tracks are linked there. I cranked this album up the other day for the first time in a few months and still couldn't get it as loud as I wanted it. It's better now than it was then. Here's a Guided by Voices cover that's not on the album.

6.  Local H - Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (Slimstyle Records)

One of the most underappreciated bands of the past 20 years puts out the best record of their career. I reviewed it here.

5.  METZ - s/t (Sub Pop)

As happy as it made me to listen to this album the dozens of times I did over the past few months, I can't believe I'm not ranking it number one. This Toronto trio make melody-free, adrenaline-releasing squalls of galvanized noise. This album is pure exhilaration.

4.  Bob Mould - Silver Age (Merge)

At the risk of dating myself (which I think is a sin, by the way), I bought Zen Arcade the week it was released in 1983. Husker Du is my all-time favorite band. I know a thing or two about Bob Mould and his catalog. I think this is the best Bob Mould recording since Flip Your Wig. I bought the remastered Copper Blue this week to make sure I hadn't flipped my own, and now I'm ready to stand by that statement. I don't think any artist I've followed for an extended period ever has surprised me the way Bob has with this album.

It's also worth pointing out (and I think my buddy Slainte Joe did this first) that Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster is becoming Merge Records' own Jeff Porcaro, playing (and touring) with Mould on this record and the Mountain Goats record mentioned above. Although the sound quality on the studio version is better than the video below, this live performance a few weeks ago on Conan O'Brien is just something to see.

3. Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction (Profound Lore)

I reviewed this Arkansas doom metal band's stellar debut back in March. Say what you will about a lot of the hipster crap Pitchfork covers to the exclusion of a bunch of good music (for example, if you plug the name of the band responsible for my #1 into the Pitchfork search engine, you get no results), they do a really nice job writing about metal. So congratulations to Pallbearer for having Pitchfork's number one metal album of 2012.

2. Japandroids - Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)

I can't be much more effusive about a record than I was back in June when I reviewed this. And Post Nothing was my AOY in 2009, in the days before I began hiding in the corner of the WYMA offices. So I've got two Canadian bands in my top 5, and Rush put out a damn good record this year as well. Who says global warming isn't real? And of the top 6 bands, there are 2 four pieces, 2 threes, and 2 twos. So what does that say about Thomas Malthus? Exactly.

Here's a cool live video from this past summer.

1. Menzingers - On the Impossible Past (Epitaph)

This album got in my brain early on and stayed there. Not that I tried to make room for anything else. The writing on this album is phenomenal. And when they need something else, they have the self-assurance to go and find it. Track three, "The Obituaries", quotes lines from Nabokov's Pale Fire before returning to a chorus that starts with "I will fuck this up." And it works. There's nothing forced or pretentious about it. At this point I'm just repeating the stuff I wrote six months ago, so I'll close my list by saying that this is the best of the best year I can remember in music. Thanks to everyone who reads our site, and thanks to my more energetic mates on the site for suffering my prodigal comings and goings.

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