There are many things I am not good at doing. One of them is telling people how much I appreciate the posting links to videos and songs and whatnot in twitter and facebook posts, or just dropping me a line about something they’ve heard. What you all may not realize is that I make a point of listening to each and every piece of music I’m hepped to in those ways. No really, I do! I figure if someone is moved enough by a song or an artist to post about it that there’s probably something there worth my five minutes to listen to. I’ve heard a lot of music that didn’t click with me by doing that. The great thing is, I’ve also heard a lot that did move me.
What this is is a summary of 50 songs from 2012 that moved me enough to want to hear more. They’ve become representative of my favorite records and artists of 2012.
I could spend days telling you about the music so many of you have told me about this year (in what was a rich and amazing year for great tunes), but instead I’d like to show you. Better yet, I’ll let you listen to them!
I won’t use the same words and phrases you’re used to hearing from me to say how much I liked certain stuffs in 2012. Rather, I figured I’d get back to my roots and just do a music mix of my favorite songs and artists from the past year. Been about six or seven years since I’ve done this, but I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out. Additionally, thanks to Spotify, Turntable.fm, and Twitter I feel like I heard so much good music by so many great artists in 2012 that trying to pare things down to just 20 records would be an impossible chore.
So what’s all this then? Let me try to explain.
1. I broke the 50 tracks down into two separate mixes of 25 songs each. The mixes are interchangeable. I just separated things by how the flow goes. Each one is about 90 minutes. Each is crossfaded and normalized and one big mp3 file. The idea is, listen to all of it or come back to it, do whatever. That said, the object isn’t “Hey, how can I grab these songs?!?!” If you try, you’ll be stuck with the crossfaded bits and bytes from the beginning and end to each song. Instead of going to that trouble, throw some worthy artists some money, huh?
2. These go in order. That order has nothing to do with chronology or perceived quality. The order is: these mixes need to flow, one song into the next. Each one is autonomous. There should be a beginning, a middle, a few peaks, a few valleys, and then a wrap up. When you get to the end of one of the mixes, it should feel like you’re at the end, y’know?
3. Finally, thanks are in order: everyone who contributed to the “What are you listening to” 2012 thread at Quarter To Three, anyone who’s ever pm’d me or emailed me with a song or record or artist to listen to, anyone who’s ever posted a music video on my Facebook timeline, anyone who’s ever DJ’d in a room in Turntable, anyone who’s contributed a record to our Bitches Brew Spotify playlist….THANKS!!!!! This mix is as much all of you, and a tribute to all your good taste, not mine. I just manage to occasionally shut up long enough to listen when someone says that they like a song and then find the time to go see if I like that song, too.
These are the songs I liked off records I liked by artists I liked this year. They’re probably not the “best” of 2012; there’s probably not much crossover in the venn diagram of “stuff I really liked” and “stuff that sits on most critics’ lists”. I didn’t always choose the “best” song off a record I liked, either, necessarily. I picked songs in a lot of cases that I thought were representative of an album I liked a lot, and gave special consideration to songs that fit with a mix better, too. At any rate, I hope y’all will hear a few tunes you like, too!
“50 Smash Hits From 2012!”
(Right click and “save as”…or just click to stream)
1. Japandroids “The Nights Of Wine And Roses”
2. Ty Segall and White Fence “Easy Ryder”
3. The Brian Jonestown Massacre “Viholliseni Maalla”
4. CaveofswordS “Ghryme”
5. Disappears “Replicate”
6. Weird Dreams “666.66″
7. A. C. Newman “I’m Not Talking”
8. The dB’s “Send Me Something Real”
9. Frank Ocean “Bad Religion”
10.Lee Fields “You’re The Kind Of Girl”
11.The Bamboos (Feat. Tim Rogers) “I Got Burned”
12.Rodriguez “Can’t Get Away”
13.The Dum Dum Girls”Season In Hell”
14.The Human Eyes “Born To Die”
15.Diiv “How Long Have You Known”
16.The Delta Spirit “California”
17.The Blakes “Narwhal”
18.Sharon Van Etten “Serpents”
19.The Cheatahs “The Swan”
20.I Was A King “Indiana”
21.The Mark Lanegan Blues Band “Leviathan”
22.The Cloud Nothings “Wasted Days”
23.Jack White “Hypocritical Kiss”
24.Euros Childs “These Dreams Of You”
25.George Harrison “All Things Must Pass (Demo)”
1. The Men “Open Your Heart”
2. Ex Cops “The Millionaire”
3. Lotus Plaza “Eveningness”
4. Sinead O’Connor “The Wolf Is Getting Married”
5. The Resonars “Sit Right Down”
6. Snake & Jet’s Amazing Bullit Band “Black Egg”
7. Randy Michael & The Well Dressed Lads “The Face”
8. Sleepy Kitty “Don’t You Start”
9. Toys That Kill “Stye”
10. Giuda “Number 10″
11.Nada Surf “Jules And Jim”
12.Tame Impala “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”
13.The Allah Las “Don’t You Forget It”
14.Twelve Thousand Armies “Darling Let’s Breathe”
15.Nude Beach “Some Kinda Love”
16.Redd Kross “Stay Away From Downtown”
17.The Mountain Goats “Cry For Judas”
18.The Amazing “Flashlight”
19.Lightships “Silver And Gold”
20.The Royal Headache “Down The Lane”
21.Bob Mould “The Descent”
22.Richard Hawley “Down In The Woods”
23.Aimee Mann “Soon Enough”
24.Woods “Is It Honest?”
25.Spiritualized “So Long You Pretty Thing”
One of the connections I feel like I have to have with a record or band is lyrical; even when the words to songs don’t make sense, the images they evoke can be as important to me as the music they’re set to. So here we are with a band singing in a language where my vocabulary is limited to a $20,000 Pyramid Category of “Things you might ask for in a busy restaurant kitchen”. Since I doubt highly that Murcia-based Octubre have many songs about lemons, lobster, or dish machines, I’m totally at sea here.
The thing is, while I don’t know exactly what Octubre frontman Jose Esteban is singing about…I know what he’s singing about. There’s an earnestness and longing in his voice on “Nada Que Perder” (“Nothing To Lose”) or “Expreso De Media Noche” (“Midnight Express”) that is universal. In other words, I dunno exactly what John Lennon’s singing on the chorus of “Across The Universe” either, but does it matter?
Octubre is well-aided in this fantastic record by a guy who sort of is the guiding light behind the vibrant Murcia rock scene, a fellow who you ought to know named Juan Antonio Ross. Ross had a band of that name with a few records out here in the States back in the day, and a 2-disc retrospective he put out last year in Europe is one of the best guitar-pop listens you’ll ever have. Ross knows shimmery-but-punchy rock guitar pop production like Bo knows football, and his studio touch can’t help but evoke the best moments from Teenage Fanclub’s career. (And I mean really, “Nada Es Imposible” is so Gerry Love it almost hurts.)
In the end analysis, the triumph of Todo So Lo Lleva El Viento (“Everything Is Gone With The Wind”) all belongs to Octubre. Sure, you could have a field day picking out this Oasis riff or that Big Star chord progression…but to the band’s credit they carry off the entire venture with such uninhibited and palpable joy that they soar beyond the sum of such parts ten seconds into the title track that leads off the record. One of the happiest discoveries of 2010 for me, this is. (Oh, and despite the rather exotic nature of it all, surprisingly this wonderful disc can be had digitally from Amazon and iTunes. Huh.)
9. The Walkmen, Lisbon
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with The Walkmen. I’ve always appreciated their indie ethos, and when they go minimalist and noisy I’ve been greatly affected by their gorgeous and stark melodies. Sadly, when they try to throw on the layers is when they tend to lose me; Hamilton Leithauser’s earnest and always up-front-in-the-mix vocals work so well in the former context, but in the latter he can sound like nothing so much as Bono’s just as insufferable American cousin.
Imagine my surprise at realizing that Lisbon has some of the best uptempo and un-somber rock songs The Walkmen have ever recorded, and that they totally work for my own personal self. Perhaps it’s the way the bright guitar work on songs like “Juveniles” or “Woe Is Me” recalls my favorite moments of Vampire Weekend (indie kid rake fight: which band uses that clean and bright guitar sound first and/or to better effect?), but even when the sound is echo-muted like on “Blue As Your Blood”, it carries The Walkmen into some of the loveliest and most exciting music they’ve ever written.
And Lisbon is by no means a cheerful end-to-end romp. The horns that open “Stranded” give it the feel of an Irish wake as done on Bourbon Street. “While I Shovel The Snow” is even more stark and brittle, a gorgeous little miracle of a song powered by a deceptively simple guitar and Leithauser’s engaging vocal. The album’s closer, the title track, is the Walkmen playing their final ace. “Lisbon” is a 6-minute cinematic and epic closer that builds off both the brighter and accessible feel of the album as a whole, but weds it to some of the most evocative and longing lyrics the Walkmen have written to date.
My list won’t have The New Pornographers, Grinderman, Spoon, Teenage Fanclub, Kanye West, Janelle Monae, Sharon Jones, Phosphorescent, Wild Nothing, Joanna Newsom, OFF!, or Blood Feathers. All those folks put out terrific music in 2010, and I greatly enjoyed their respective outputs. For whatever reason, there were 20 bits of music that just clicked better with me personally than what those folks put out, so there it is. Enough folks with excellent taste will tell you how good those discs are, and they’re right, and I mention them because I don’t want anyone to think me not including them means I don’t think any of those folks put out the best music of 2010…they probably did…
….but this is my list, so it’ll be subject to my own biases, prejudices, and tastes. It is what it is.
20. The Granite Shore, “Flood Of Fortune” 7-inch (also “Tomorrow Morning, 3 AM” 7-inch).
Lots of years I seem to have an EP that I slot in at 20, not ready to give it full credit as an album but still. This year I went even smaller. The entire recorded output of The Granite Shore–who hail from “The Southwest UK”, Exeter perhaps?–consists of four songs released on two expensively detailed, meticulously, beautifully packaged 7″ vinyl singles (they do digital, too). The band, the vehicle of a fellow named Nick Halliwell, frequently consists of folks from the Wild Swans, as well as Phil Wilson who was once the leader of an incredible 1980′s band called The June Brides. And I’m writing more about The Granite Shore than anything else pretty much in the bottom half of my top 20 for the year because on these four songs Halliwell and his mates have recorded some of the most striking orchestral pop music I’ve heard in…like ever. Let’s just be clear: if you can imagine a band that combines the best bits of The Left Banke, Belle & Sebastian, and then stir in the most inventive moments from the first Decemberists album, you’ll get in the ballpark with The Granite Shore. The “Flood Of Fortune” single (backed with “Highway Code”) consists of a 56-piece string section, for instance. I cheated a bit here: the glorious “Tomorrow Morning, 3AM” single (backed with perhaps the best song in the Granite Shore catalog, “Workhouse”) is actually from 2009…but that sucker’s worth grabbing too. According to Phil Wilson, Halliwell has enough material to record and release an album proper. Let’s hope that happens in 2011. In the meantime, you Decemberist fans get all the hell over this, please?
Their Myspace page, where you can hear “Tomorrow, 3AM” and “Workhouse” in their magnificent glory. That page also has a link to their website where you can buy the songs as mp3′s or get the beautifully packaged vinyl or CD singles.
19. Nushu, Hula
At their best, Nushu (which is LA scene vets Lisa Mychols and Hillary Burton) sounds like the great followup album The Breeders never recorded. There are songs here that kind of fall flat (and the second half of the record rather lags a bit as a result), but there’s no denying the greatness of “Another Rainy Weekend” or “So Long (Maybe)” or “Your Girl”.
18. Dragoon, The Offending Party
The first album from the collaboration between the rhythm section of the legendary indie scuzz rockers The Grifters and Trusty frontman Bobby Matthews has been in the works for years, finally seeing light of day here in 2010. Lo-Fi as grungy as hell and hearkening back to the Crappin You Negative days of The Grifts, I suppose slotting this in at 18 is something of a disappointment. Turns out the songs that Dragoon released for consumption a few years ago (“Impress Me” which opens with the memorable line “We can do this with or without your snide-ass attitude”, “I Can Relate” and the sublime “Golden Hips”) were the best ones in the arsenal, and there are a few songs that just don’t work as well as they could. I also docked them 5 spots for leaving “Impatient” off this disc; that song had an epic feel that seems missing from some of the other songs that did make the cut. Still, you get a chance to hear Stanley Gallimore and Tripp Lamkins rock out and you need to grab it.
17. The Brought Low, Third Record
These Brooklyn-ites have always brought it heavy…but never quite this southern. In fact when the group throws itself into a groove, guitarist/vocalist Benjamin Howard Smith sounds not a little bit like a long-lost Van Zant brother. The record is a little uneven, but even the lesser parts are made up for by incredible songs like “A Thousand Miles Away”, “Last Man Alive” (which is so beautifully Skynyrd it could be a studio outtake), and the epic “The Kelly Rose”.
16. The Cyanide Pills, S/T
There are maybe a hundred bands on this planet right now doing a retro-punk thing that recalls the sounds of The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, or The Buzzcocks. The Cyanide Pills are probably the second best of all of them. For one thing, these blokes don’t have to affect fake British accents, as they hail from Leeds in the UK. The Cyanide Pills were a band I completely dismissed the first time I heard them…and then realized that I had “Break It Up” and “Shallow” riffing like crazy through my head. And so what these folks do sounds like it oughta be easy, but I’m not sure it is. They know from a killer hook, and like their obvious influences they strew them all over their 2-minute songs (this, their debut album features 19 songs…and a 40-minute run time.) So yeah, maybe the Cyanide Pills are painting by numbers here…but they’re doing it damn near better than anyone else on the planet, and there’s plenty of reason to think that they might just continue to evolve and have an even more monstrous record in them in the future. For now, turn this up and get to air-guitaring and pogo-ing!
Why?, the vehicle for Oakland free spirit Yoni Wolf is the kind of band that drives folks who need their music pigeonholed by genre to distraction. Is what they do rap or hiphop? They record for the avant-hop label Anticon, and Wolf is an inventive if vulgar rhymer…but especially now on Alopecia Why? is essentially a sort of indie rock band, with Wolf mostly singing with a his laconic, John Flansburg-ish nasal voice.
Alopecia definitely presents Why? as a rock band. These are songs that won’t be too unfamiliar to any indie rock fan…and Why? carries it off with deep beats and grooves that wend slyly through the proceedings. The result is a terrific mashup of genres that, while having been tried before, probably haven’t been blended this well since the first Basehead album almost 20 years ago. Things tend to wander around a bit, but Wolf is a wonderful ring master for what could become chaos but doesn’t. He’s right on top of things with his inventive if frequently crude (Wolf can make you squirm) lyrics and wordplay.
The danger for Why? (and frankly, for too many folks on the Anticon label) is getting too tied up in the intellectual/artistic statement part of what they do. What makes Alopecia special is that while it is a wholly-satisfying intellectual work of art, it also just sounds damned good.
14. Skipping Girl Vinegar, Sift The Noise.
If you describe an album as uplifting or ascribe to it the cardinal rock sin of happiness, it evokes a sort of effervescent giddiness, so I want to be careful in how I praise this wonderful, gloriously charming debut from Melbourne’s SGV. Is it a happy record? Well, yes. Sort of. See, it isn’t the “happiness without strings” happy of early Beach Boys. Rather there’s a certain lingering sadness and weariness lingering at the edges of Sift The Noise that seem to evidence that this record–which sounds effortless–probably took years and years and years and years to make. The “happiness” of it is more the happiness of a guy on a life-raft who’s weathered some terrible storms (which he’d rather not talk about, thanks) to finally find rescue.
And so with that in mind, I will state that the title track here is one of the most gloriously ebullient songs you’ll ever hear. SGV tends to veer towards more acoustic material on the rest of the disc, but even there lead singer/songwriter Mark Lang is able to carry things off. What helps immeasurably is his ability to channel a vocal sound not at all unlike a young Peter Case (see “River Road” especially; that song could be an outtake from Case’s first solo album). If the middle of Sift The Noise is quiet and acoustic and pastoral, they find a sweet blue-eyed soul groove again on “Sinking”, before finishing with two lovely songs, “Drove For Miles” and the meditative “The Passing”. SGV won’t change the world, but it might change yours, or at least your mood for a few hours. They’re the kind of band for whom it’s easy to root for, and one hopes the success they’ve found in Australia eventually becomes a worldwide thing.
13. Novillero, A Little Tradition
Let me get this out of the way first: Novillero’s Aim Right For The Holes In Their Lives, which came out in 2005, was not only my favorite record of that year, it might be my favorite record of the 2000′s. It showed a raucous, gritty side along with an ability to carry off songs with surpassingly brilliant melodies and topical, on-target socio-political lyrics. Waiting three years for a followup probably had me placing unattainable expectations on A Little Tradition. So what do we have here? Well, we have a good disc, one that, if you’re just discovering Novillero, might sound like one of the year’s best. For me it was a bit disappointing, as the Memphis/Muscle Shoals soulful moves of the previous disc seem much more muted here. I could take up this capsule review by talking about what Tradition didn’t do for me, but that wouldn’t be the point here.
What it does have, then, are some of the best songs of the year. The one-two punch of “Life In Parentheses” and the title track are wonderful, especially the reggae syncopation of the latter. If things sag a little in the middle, “Plastic Flag” does yeoman work propping them back up. “Paco Rabanne” is a terrific instrumental, and the record closes strong with “The Printed Word (Sucks For Inflection)” and “Far From Too Far”, the latter song possessing one of the great piano hooks Rod Slaughter’s ever written. I’ll be very interested to see how Novillero carries forward. They recently saw their bassist and occasional singer and songwriter Grant Johnson left the group right after after the disc came out. Fellow Winnipegger Rej Ricard from the wonderful Telepathic Butterflies joined Novillero to tour, but I suppose it’s an open question on whether he’ll contribute actively to future recorded output. I’d like to see it, that’s for sure.
The Stabilisers first properly-released stateside album ended up in my hands about 2 weeks after I’d fallen under the spell of their labelmates, The Len Price 3. “Oh great, another Medway band on Little Steven’s record label”. At risk of feeling my tastes in music to be too easily pigeonholed, I had every expectations of hating this.
And so yeah, I had it on shuffle, and “She Wants It All The Time” was the first Stabilisers song I’d ever heard, and I found myself thinking “Yeah, I loved that guitar riff back when Stiff Little Fingers and The Buzzcocks did it a thousand times 30 years ago…” But wait a minute here. “She Wants It” suddenly kicks in with a middle 8, and then they do a key change, and then there’s a stop/start…huh. One of the ways a lot of mediocre punk rock loses me is that most punk bands come up with a stomping riff and that’s all they can manage in a song. But here’s The Stabilisers writing 3 minute songs that never quite go where you expect them to, with dynamics and a pulse that seemingly no one else is able to.
One of the reasons I have so little patience for bands that have a sound that recalls some other, earlier rock and roll predecessor is that the new bands always seem to get the sound right, but not the rest. Hell, give any guitarist a Rickenbacker plugged into an AC-30 amp turned up too high, and they’ll sound awesome. Sadly, too many bands get that part down, and that’s good enough for them. Bands that get the sound and the fury and the verve and the spirit and the content all nailed are precious and few; The Exploding Hearts managed all that, but their tragic end pretty much left no one else as good on the scene to pick up for ‘em.
Until now. The Stabilisers just completely fucking get it. They get it all. They seem to have grasped with full mind and soul what it was that made The Jam, The Buzzcocks, and The Undertones so amazingly brilliant and beloved, and then they’ve made an album here that doesn’t imitate those artists, but rather taps into that same mystical kick-ass rock and roll magic their forebears also drew upon. You can try to play “spot the influence” on individual Stabilisers songs, but that’s a loser’s game. For one thing, you’re going to miss out on valuable pogo-ing time. For another, just when you think you’ve got ‘em nailed down, they’ll throw you completely off your mark with dramatic chord or key or dynamic change that defies such eggheaded knobbish analysis.
What all of that means is, don’t get hung up on the academics on Wanna Do, even though for the rock historian and theorist there’s a lot there to love. Instead, just crank this record as loud as your landlord will possibly let you (ok, headphones if you gotta) and let yourself fall under the spell of riff-rockers like “Wanna” and “Born To Kiss Arse”, or let yourself be rocked into next week by an anthem like the near-perfect “Belinda” or the amazing “The Way She Is” or shake your ass to rumble of “Problem Child” and “My Latest Obsession”. You’ll marvel at the fact that if The Stabilisers were a lesser band, this riff-heavy rock would get sludgy and gludgy and too heavy to be so much goddamned fun, and you might not even care that the reason it doesn’t grind down is that bassist/lead singer Jon Bott turns in one of the landmark performances in the recent history of that instrument by blending with drummer Francis Braithwaite to keep these songs nimble and angular and on the move.
What The Stabilisers do on Wanna Do The Wild Plastic Brane Love Thing seems deceptively easy, but it isn’t, because there are a thousand lesser lights out there who’d kill to be able to claim this disc as their own. The Stabilisers are the original article, a damn near perfect distillation of everything that is great and timeless about rock and roll rolled up into one 13 song testament.
1. The Blakes, S/T
Like this is a surprise, huh? Anyone attempting to engage me in a conversation about music since May or so has had to endure me yammering on and on about how freaking GREAT The Blakes are. I’m gonna try to tell you why, and I might get wordy.
You can start by mentioning the timeless sound they’ve cooked up. Garnet Keim manages guitar lines that sound as if he’s working over influences from ’50′s rockabilly, Dave Davies, the Velvets, Johnny Thunders, and even a little Peter Buck thrown in. His brother Snow compliments him ably with nimble, twisting basslines, and a more understated vocal counterpoint to Garnet’s rawer, more immediate vocal style. The not-so-secret weapon of The Blakes though is drummer Bob Husak. He plays with a Moon-like ferocity but an Al Jackson-like discipline (those unfamiliar with Stax records can substitute “Charlie Watts” if you like). In other words, he can go nuts with all sorts of original fills, but then find the pocket with a popping snare that dares your body to resist the whipcrack beat.
All that goodness makes for a good band. The Blakes, though, are a great band–in fact, they might be the greatest rock and roll band on the planet right now. So what else is there? There are songs, yo. The expanded, Light In The Attic Records version of this album (a few self-released copies were distributed by the band last year) opens with a headlong rush of seven songs that stand as seven of the best rock and roll songs you’re likely to hear this year….and they just fly off this record, one after another. The amazing thing is, there’s so much variation in those seven tunes that it’s almost as if these fellows showing off. “Two Times” opens the disc with a blazing blast of rock and soul fury, with Garnet Keim in full on wildman vocal mode (note to Allmusic’s clueless reviewer–Garnet’s voice is pitch perfect for this; anyone can lend full, raw vocal power to a song and not carry the tune, but Keim sounds like a 20 year old Mick Jagger on speed here, and–this is important–he’s always on-key and in service to the song). “Don’t Bother Me” is more of a tension-builder, showing off a bit of debt to the postpunks of the ’80′s. “Magoo” rolls with a barrelhouse magic that betrays a freakbeat moddish influence. “Modern Man” is an absolute stunner, with Keim playing an infectious riff over a Stooge-y guitar storm. The majestic “Run” adds a nifty wobbly ’80′s new wave keyboard and shows that these fellas listened to New Order’s Low-Life back in the day (imagine “Love Vigilantes” as interpreted by Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers.) “Commit” is another stunner, and maybe the best single song on the record thanks to Snow Keim’s bass work in the choruses, taking the tune in a completely unexpected melodic direction. “Don’t Want That Now” sounds like a modern update of some long lost Animals classic…
…and then the listless “Lintwalk” breaks the spell a bit. Hey, even Albert Pujols strikes out every once in a while. Thankfully, Snow’s “Vampire” gets things back on track with a song that sounds like nothing so much as The Grifters covering some Cure classic. They follow that with the anthemic, fist-pumping “Lie Next To Me”; if I was in The Strokes, I’d end my career right now, because in 2:47, “Lie Next To Me” does everything that band has ever tried to do over the course of seven years, and does it ten times better. “Pistol Grip” and “Picture” are both fine songs, and the band ends things with a flourish with the elliptical “Streets”, a song awash in weird guitar textures and postpunk attitude…until the chorus comes in and suddenly it turns into a “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” raveup stomp.
The neatest trick The Blakes turn is managing to be so multifaceted. If you need a hooky melody, few pure-pop guitar bands can match “Commit” or “Run”. If you need the punk, “Lie Next To Me” and “Two Times” are the obvious choices, but the whole disc is shot through with a punk-ish DIY energy and rawness that infuses even the introspective moments of this self-titled gem with a gritty toughness that runs far past any trends or poses.
Above all though, this is as much a soul record as it is a rock record. Arrange these songs a little differently, and you can imagine Otis or James Brown belting them out. It has that verve and edge of danger to it, shot through with a relentless beat that invites dancing more than moshing. The Blakes might be one of the most important rock and roll bands in the world, and this record suggests an almost limitless potential. Get on this bandwagon now, because this could be one helluva run.
4. Sloan, Never Hear The End Of It.
(Penalized 3 slots by being released in Canada and Europe in October of 2006, but not in the US ’til 2007.)
Get me wound up about Canadian rock band Sloan, and I’m likely to babble your ear off until you’re sorry you asked. Suffice it to say that Sloan might be the greatest rock band Americans have never heard of, an anonymous bunch of good-hearted lads who in the Great White North are arena-rocking superstars. I would happily admit that they might be my favorite band on the planet right now.
…and over their last two discs up until Never Hear The End Of It, I was sort of having to tell myself “Self, those Sloan boys are running out of gas, and quickly.” I’d find maybe one or two songs on those previous Sloan albums to embrace, and the rest was just filler. When I heard that they were coming back from a 2-year break from releasing new music with the 23-song opus here, I was more than a bit skeptical.
Putting the band on a temporary hiatus to raise families and bask in a career well-done did these fellows good. In particular, drummer Andrew Scott emerges from a dry spell to be primary songwriter on a solid chunk of the disc. Guitarist Jay Ferguson also deserves kudos for writing his best songs in nearly a decade (“Who Taught You To Live Like That” especially). If bassist (and Sloan’s heart and soul) Chris Murphy and guitarist Patrick Pentland have stepped back a bit, to be sure they provide two of the albums highest high points–Murphy on “Live The Life You’re Dreaming Of” and Pentland on the arena-shaking “Ill-Placed Trust”. To be sure, there are a few moments in this double-cd that don’t quite click (not sure what they were thinking with “Golden Eyes”) but that’s just quibbling really. Never Hear The End Of It is a stunning, brilliant high-water mark for the band, and hence for guitar-based rock in general.
“I’ve Gotta Try”(Video, and yes drummer Andrew Scott is playing guitar and singing while bassist Chris Murphy is on drums…They do that a lot.)
“Set In Motion”
“Who Taught You To Live Like That?”
The whole album is streamed here. Try “Fading Into Obscurity”, “Ana Lucia”, “Someone I Can Be True With” (pay special attention to the lyrics in the second chorus if you want to laugh your ass off), “Live The Life You’re Dreaming Of” and “Ill-Placed Trust” to start with.
3. Grand Champeen, Dial T For This.
So yeah, an Austin band of critic’s darlings made a tremendous guitar rock album this year drawing on a variety of genre-bending idioms and playing havoc with listener’s expectations…
….but I ain’t talking about Spoon. Grand Champeen pretty much out-Spooned Spoon in every way imaginable this year on Dial T, and if this wonderful disc had come out just about any other year, it’d be numero uno.
Champeen has always been dogged by comparisons to legendary indie rockers Superchunk, and listening to GC’s prior output, I suppose that’s a fair criticism. Spending over two years in the recording process, this 2007 effort is a quantum leap forward for them. Shedding the sloppy production of previous albums, Dial T For This spins out like a 13-song tour through guitar-based indie rock of the last 20 years. Starting with the Spoon-ish nod of “What It Beats” and “Different Sort Of Story”, they recall The Jayhawks and Replacements within “Nice Of You To Join Us”, while melding Superchunk to Cheap Trick on “Wounded Eye”. The keyboard flourishes that carry “Cities On The Plain” recall legends like The Great Plains and Get Smart, while “To The Ides” (perhaps the best song on the disc) opens with a Game Theory feel before turning into a vintage (circa 1987) Soul Asylum-flavored romp.
Grand Champeen are the kind of band the world needs more of; they play with a wide-eyed joyful sincerity that slays just about everyone else doing the rock and roll thing. These guys have made an incadescent, thrilling, joyride of a rock and roll record with Dial T For This.
7. Richard Hawley, Lady’s Bridge.
I’m baffled; I don’t know how Richard Hawley does it. He makes 3 records and an ep, and somehow manages to make each one better than the amazing record that preceded it. His 2006 disc, Cole’s Corner was just a landmark achievement in music, so how do you follow it? You put out a record in 2007 that is every bit that former disc’s equal, if not better.
Like Cole’s Corner, the title of Hawley’s 2007 album refers to a location in his native Sheffield in England. In this case, Lady’s Bridge is the bridge that separated the middle and upper-class sections of that city from the working class and poor (where Hawley hailed from). That’s one of the main themes that runs through the record, along with the familiar terrain of love and loss and redemption.
Hawley is another tough artist for me to rate, so I always over-penalize him. There’s literally no one else out there who sounds remotely like him. His ability to effortlessly blend styles and idioms from Elvis to Buddy Holly to Frank Sinatra to Roy Orbison and make it all his own is remarkable (his rather stunning voice doesn’t hurt matters, obviously.) Honestly, the only musical comparison I have for Hawley is the Chairman himself. Sinatra had an amazing run of records in the middle of the 1960′s and created this incredibly enduring block of music that will survive for as long as folks have ears for popular music. Hawley is in that same company; by my count he’s released about 40 songs in his solo career, and there isn’t a clunker in the lot of them. I have this nagging feeling that in 25 years, folks will be discussing Mr. Hawley as one of the most important artists of the 21st century. No need to wait that long to find that out for yourself.
6. The Len Price 3, Rentacrowd.
So I’m watching latenight cable a few months ago, not really paying attention whatsoever…and there’s this ad for Southern Comfort liquor that comes on. Whatever, right? Except there’s an amazing song in the commercial that sounds like The Pretty Things, circa 1967, except it isn’t them. A little google-fu reveals that the band with the song in the commercial is called the Len Price 3.
After picking up and giving the record a whole lot of spins, I realized that this was gonna be a fairly divisive pick for my best-of list. Let’s face it, these guys ought to be sending royalties to The Who, The Creation, and The Action. There’s nothing original about them, really, except the originality to choose really kick-ass influences. For some folks, they’ll hear a Len Price 3 song and think “This is too retro/unhip/derivative” and they’ll skulk off to listen to their indie rock and miss the whole point.
For other folks though, this album will be bliss. You know who you are–you’re the one whose pulse quickens when you hear the opening guitar chord of “The Kids Are Alright”. You’re the one who was nearly frugging in the aisle of the theater the first time you saw Rushmore and heard “Making Time”. You’re the guy who sees a band with a Rickenbacker guitar and Danelectro bass and knows that you can give yourself over to them utterly, and that said band won’t disappoint.
So yeah, it’d be easy (and rather missing the point) to dismiss The Len Price 3 as some version of The Rutles focused on The Who. I’m here to tell you that these three blokes write incredibly infectious, instantly memorable rock and roll songs with a timeless quality about them. If they occasionally do rip off their forebears (and yeah, the title track could be sued for sounding too much like “Substitute”), they redeem themselves by coming up with brilliant original songs like “Sailor’s Sweetheart”, or “Julia Jones” or “No Good” or “Turn It Around” that are thoroughly unique creations that stand on their own. (One listening tip: the album has a very trebly mix; to get the full wonderfulness of the Len Price 3 to come over, play this record freaking loud!)
5. The Dexateens, Hardwire Healing
From what I gather, The Dexateens have always sort of lived in the shadow of like-minded Alabamans The Drive By Truckers–the former as sort of the rowdy, devil-take-us snotty little brothers of the latter. I’d heard the previous Dexateens album a few times and while it was kinda fun, I thought it was kinda forgettable.
Color me impressed then by Hardwire Healing. Possessing just the right amount of their previous piss and vinegar, but abetted by a batch of killer songs and genius co-production of ex-Sugar drummer David Barbe and DB Trucker Patterson Hood…well this is a monster of a record, out-striping Jack White while tapping into a sensibility somewhere between Skynyrd, Exile-era Rolling Stones, and The Black Crowes. These Tuscaloosa lads can roar and stomp like the furies on songs like “Naked Ground” and “Makers Mound”, but they can also handle a deft and perfect melody like on the transcendent “Neil Armstrong”.
…and then there’s “Nadine”. Nothing on the record up to the point of this song (it’s track 10 of 12) prepares the senses for this sucker, perhaps the most nakedly beautiful song anyone recorded this year. It’ll rip your guts out, so just be ready for it. Right after “Nadine”, though, these fellas come up with what might be the niftiest song on their record with “Outside The Loop”. Showing a dynamic sense that they never foreshadowed before this disc showed up, they make “Loop” into a funky tour-de-force of rhythmic flow and dynamic grooves that sounds, god help me, like the kind of song Mick and Keith used to write in the early ’70′s…only the Dexateens make it completely their own.
I’m sure it’ll draw the ire of the numerous fans of the Drive By Truckers, but with Hardwire Healing, their upstart apprentices have made a record the former band would die for. The student has become the teacher, and all that mumbo-jumbo; The Dexateens are one of the great bands in the country right now.