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.
11. Crocodiles - Endless Flowers. Been following the Crocs for several years, so this record was highly anticipated… and it certainly did not disappoint. Absolutely beautiful combination – shoegaze guitars, freight-train harmony vocals and punk backbeat combine to invoke the spirits of The Ramones and Jesus And Mary Chain in one entity. WYMA review here.
12. Allah-las - The Allah-Las. Thanks to Rocksteady for bringing this sucker to my attention. I wouldn’t say this band, or this record, is the “best” at any specific thing (although it’s plenty great at reverb, guitars, vocals) but it is certainly one of the most listenable records I heard all year. I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out exactly what about this record was so bewitching, then I just gave up and went back to enjoying the heck out of it. WYMA review here.
13. Pujol - United States Of Being. I mentioned garage rock from Nashville… and while Pujol is a great example of that, they’ve also incorporated very tasty elements of 70’s glam, punk and even arena rock. Super catchy, and super down and dirty… just really enjoyable rock music. WYMA review here.
14. Will Johnson – Scorpion. The opening cut, “You Will Be Here, Mine” would fit nicely on just about any Centro-matic or South San Gabriel record. The rest of it is a little more subdued, and as a whole this is a very reflective record. As much as I prefer the majestic rock sound of Centro-matic, I stand firm that anything with a Will Johnson vocal on it is great to listen to. WYMA review here.
15. Dulce Pájara de Juventud – Dulce Pájara de Juventud. Indie Rock en espanol, with an attitude. Most of the record rocks out – Pixies en espanol – and one of my favorite cuts is a 6:00-plus instrumental built upon a vehement sermon delivered by a radio preacher from Argentina. The spirit of 90’s indie rock is strong with this one. WYMA review here.
16. Sweater Girls - Sweater Girls Were Here. One of the best shoegaze/noise pop records I heard this year, featuring a true wall of sound (including chimes here and there) and upbeat female vocals. Lighter on the reverb, heavier on the buzzsaw guitars = a winning formula. WYMA review here.
17. Semis - High On Pop EP. Yes, it’s only a five-song EP, but it’s that good. I’m going to continue to sing the praises of Tampa/St. Pete power pop outfit The Semis until more folks catch on. Billy Summer has a winning formula – various parts Teenage Fanclub, Keith Richards and Marc Bolan. Sounds messy, and maybe it is. But it just works. WYMA review here.
18. Jeff The Brotherhood – Hypnotic Nights. JTB teamed up with Dan Auerbach to produce this follow up to We Are The Champions, and they remain on the right track. Beefing up the psychedelic guitar/simple lyrics approach with keyboards, more guitars and the occasional unexpected touch – check out the motorik beat that the song “Wood Ox” builds on. No WYMA review – man, I was asleep at the switch on this summer Warners release. But we’ve been fans of this Nashville duo from this blog’s inception.
19. First Aid Kit - The Lion’s Roar. Two folk-singing sisters from Sweden go to Omaha, Nebraska to make an album that combines their otherworldly vocal harmonies with a Nashville countrypolitan sound – and it works. You probably heard “Emmylou”, and if you liked it, the rest of the record is well worth checking out. WYMA review here.
20. PS I Love You - Death Dreams. Sounds to me like Canadian heavy guitar duo PS I Love You made this record on the road – the song titles are a travelogue of sorts. Highly recommended, especially if you aren’t put off by singer Paul Saulnier’s Tom Verlaine-meets-Richard Hell vocals. WYMA review here.
21. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa. A beautiful psychedelic-tinged folk-rock record that calls to mind Buffalo Springfield-era Neil Young, Jurado’s latest outing with Richard Swift is his best yet. WYMA review here.
22. Buffalo Killers - Dig. Sow. Love. Grow. The soundtrack to the Summer Of Love, but maybe 2012 vintage, this record has psychedelic guitars and a solid rhythm base and the Joe Walsh-inspired vocals are the crowning touch. WYMA review here.
23. DIIV – Oshin. Former Beach Fossils guitarist Z. Cole Smith put this band together in 2012 and even though I apparently missed out on all the Pitchfork uproar, I’ve been enjoying it since I first heard about them – just a great, great guitar sound. Again, no WYMA review, but a video:
24. Miss Shevaughn And Yuma Wray – We’re From Here. A very rich, full sound – both Shevaughn’s vocals and hers and Wray’s guitars – made this one of the best, most consistent rock releases I heard in 2012. The album title and the music were inspired by their constant touring – it has resulted in a self-assured sound that will appeal to anybody who likes guitar heroes. WYMA review here.
25. Conduits – Conduits. Another great shoegaze album, this one featuring the ethereal lead vocals of Jenna Morrison in front of some of the best effects-laden, layered guitar work I heard all year. Changes in tempo, and even in musical style, make this record stand out, to me. WYMA review here.
And here, in alphabetical order, are 25 more that grabbed me in 2012. By no means inclusive of everything I liked, it will have to do for now…
Ampersands - This Is Your Adventure Too. Really good record with whip-smart lyrics and good vocals over a sprightly power-pop band. RIYL Fountains of Wayne. WYMA review here.
Betunizer - Boogalizer. Spanish blues/rock power trio that really does boogie, but slashes and punches too. RIYL Minutemen, Pixies, Captain Beefheart. WYMA review here.
Bob Dylan - Tempest. It's not dark yet... JD's WYMA review was a good one, I thought.
The Bohannons – Unaka Rising. Southern rock with glam, blues and swamp boogie - one of a great crop of proud sons of Tennessee we covered this year. WYMA review here.
Cheap Time – Wallpaper Music. Buzzsaw guitars and a punk sneer worthy of Johnny or Sid - but these guys are from Music City, USA. Go figure.
Cuzo - Alquimia Para Principiantes. Psychedelic power rock of the variety often referred to as "stoner rock" - one of a great stable of Spanish bands brought to us by the folks at BCore. I can only infer from the great stuff I've heard from these guys, Betunizer, Maria Rodes and Dulce Pajara de Juventud that the rock scene in Spain is very strong. WYMA review here.
Db's - Falling Off The Sky. JD says it better than I can, but I will take a minute to salute Bar-None Records for getting two great records from bands over 25 years into their careers, in back-to-back years. This and last year's Feelies record are a strong one-two punch. WYMA review here.
Detective - However Strange. Very good guitar rock record from former GbV member Jim Greer and Guylaine Vivarat - jangle, noise and soft yet assured male/female vocals make this extremely enjoyable. WYMA review here.
District Attorneys – Slowburner. As Scott observed, a very good melding of Southern jangle a la R.E.M. and California pop. One of a great crop of Athens bands we became familiar with this year (see also Eureka California). WYMA review here.
Eureka California - Big Cats Can Swim. Super tasty garage rock from Athens, GA. Raw and psychedelic. WYMA review here.
Gabriel And The Hounds - Kiss Full Of Teeth. Very strong singer/songwriter record from Gabriel Levine. RIYL Springsteen, Lou Reed, Richard Buckner... WYMA review here.
The Henry Clay People - Twenty-Five For The Rest Of Our Lives. No letdown this time around from WYMA favorite HCP, and I think Scott's review covered very well all the things we love about this band, and this record. WYMA review here.
Japandroids - Celebration Rock. This record topped a lot of 2012 lists, and for good reason. Although the covers remind one of the minimalist cover of Television's Marquee Moon, the music is more Gun Club. WYMA review here.
Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker, Yim Yames - New Multitudes. In the tradition of great records like Wilco and Billy Bragg's Mermaid Avenue I and II, this is another resurrection of Woody Guthrie songs by a talented collection of today's best roots and alt country rock artists. The long-ago breakup of Uncle Tupelo pays yet another dividend? WYMA review here.
Jupiter Lion - Jupiter Lion. Another BCore band, these guys play straight ahead motorik in the tradition of Kraftwerk or Neu! And they do it very well. WYMA review here.
Margot And The Nuclear So And So’s - Rot Gut, Domestic. Richard Edwards calls it "panic rock" - not sure myself exactly what that means, but this music is smart and catchy, from the punk-influenced rockers to the sweet, affecting ballads. WYMA review here.
Maria Rodés - Sueno Triangular. From folk to country to gentle soul, this is a quiet but very assured record, another in the amazing stable of Spain's BCore Disc. WYMA review here.
Maria Rodés - Mirall from Nikita Routchenko on Vimeo.
Ozarks - Ozarks. Weaving in Beatles and other British invasion influences, Robbie Augspurger has crafted a very good pop record - RIYL Flaming Lips, Grandaddy. WYMA review here.
The Pharmacy - Stoned And Alone. I cited the Kinks as a reference point in my review, and listening to this record again, I think it's a comparison that stands up. Very catchy stuff, but with a fuzzy rock edge. WYMA review here.
Revolt Revolt - Latah Nights. This Boise band recently toured with Built to Spill, and something rubbed off. This record is a terrific, full-sized serving of guitar rock. RIYL Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr, GbV, Jane's Addiction... WYMA review here.
Rickolus - Coyote And Mule. Wildly creative yet displaying a strong pop sensibility, Richard Colado's solo record is reminiscent of spirits as disparate as Syd Barrett, Sparklehorse and Badly Drawn Boy. WYMA review here.
The Turbo Fruits - Butter. More great Nashville garage rock with a sneer and an edge, and some catchier moments, sometimes in the same territory as the Strokes. WYMA review here.
Ugly Winner - Inside Your Wave. Punk and postpunk indie come together in the bracing guitar rock of this San Jose outfit. RIYL Minutemen, Sonic Youth, GbV... WYMA review here.
Wild Cub - Youth. Catchy, soulful electronic pop with cinematic elements from Nashville duo who made a smashing appearance at Bonnaroo. WYMA review here.
Young Rival – Stay Young. Super catchy garage rock/power pop combination from Boston band. WYMA review here.