Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Baker's Dozen 2012

I say this every year-a clear sign of my increasing age, if there ever was one-but I don’t want to hear the words “The music of today sucks compared to (enter decade or frame of reference)” or “There isn’t any decent new music out today” and I’m even growing tired of “I don’t listen to a lot of new stuff any more” a little bit too.

But here’s the thing: if you’ve given up or even pre-judged anything that was released in 2012, you’re missed out on some really, really good music.

As in music that you’ll be talking about in twenty years.

As in music that can still change your fucking life.

And these are, in order, the records that you should really take a listen to in the near future, because they represent those releases that kind of blew my mind this year.

Not all of you will like the music on the list (see the Swans record and the testosterone fueled High On Fire concept album) and some may even chuckle at the rankings (Rush and Van Halen? What is this? 1982?!) which positively reeks of that aforementioned “old and in the way” reference.

The point is that you should jump in, because I’m pretty certain there’s a record somewhere in the list below that will stick to that same part inside of you that made you fall in love with music to begin with.

There is a bit of a critical aspect of the Baker’s Dozen list, but ultimately it’s ranked on personal preference alone. I’ll probably play Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange album more than any other record on this list in the future, but I have to acknowledge that Fiona Apple’s record was just flat out brilliant and placed the artist’s entire career on a heightened level than Ocean’s, whose career is just now in its first chapter.

But oh, what a chapter in that short amount of time.

And Dr. John?

Get the fuck outta here!

For a man of this age, at this stage of his career, to come out of a “Let’s see if this sticks to the wall” decision like pairing him with a dude from the Black Keys manhandling the good doctor’s production decisions. I never would have guessed it would have turned out as great as Locked Down is, and I am amazed at how often I keep coming back to it. It’s just a joy of a record that probably stands as the list’s most absolutely solid recommendation to anyone reading this. Start here.

Here’s the 2012 Baker’s Dozen, each briefly discussed with links to the original reviews if available and an extra 13 Honorable Mentions that got more than a few extra spins around the way.

1.) Fiona AppleThe Idler Wheel
Nothing prepared me for discovering just how good Fiona Apple’s fourth long-player really is, but its barren production makes for some immediate gratification. You’ll be amazed at the wide range of emotion and atmosphere that Apple makes with such limited tricks, and you’ll be thankful that such a talent resides on our shores that you’ll look at the rest of her catalog-both current and future-in a completely new way. She’s in the same breath as Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell now, and watching where she goes from this-her first certifiable masterpiece-is gonna be a blast.
2.) Frank OceanChannel Orange
People like me have seen this kind of sexually ambivalent tales of love longing/lost/lust before. But it’s been forever since I remember this kind of controversy (pun intended), unless you count this one chick back in high school who swore she thought Prince was saying “I’m in love with guys/It’s the only way” during the ending rap part on “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” Right out of the gate, Ocean delivers one of the best soul records in a generation only to watch its themes of love, romance and decadence get lost in tabloid confessions.
3.) Dr. JohnLocked Down
Remarkable. A late career statement that does nothing but lend a dirty take on some dirty rice. The drums are mixed high and the rhythms are proud. And through it all, the good doctor stirs up his old Night Tripper persona for an album that sounds too easy to be as brilliant as it is. A mood is instantly created with each play of this record, and it’s one you’ll want to revisit for the rest of your life.
4.) JapandroidsCelebration Rock
There’s a moment in every music lover’s life where you go to a show and you look around only to find the surroundings are much younger than you are. This record celebrates those occasional moments when rock and roll music transcends the age that you display superficiously. All the while, it never ignores the fact that Japandroids are very much in the midst of a middle age crisis, a welcomed thing since they’re living it with guitar and drums instead of cocaine and strippers. More brutal than White Stripes if you’re into that whole duo comparison thing, but tons more emotionally honest.
5.) SwansThe Seer
Swans’ CEO Michael Gira has been doing this for three decades now, but the apocalyptic stir he dishes up this late in the game is as focused as it’s ever been and his advancing years turn the girth of these songs into near revelatory hymns. As with any religion, this one isn’t for everyone. But if your faith is deep enough to allow Gira to nudge you along some pretty intense passages, he will certainly point out the beauty within his cathartic passion.
6.) Tame ImpalaLonerism
Credit my cousin for burning me a copy of Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker to get these guys on my radar. Lonerism moves farther into the psychedelic abyss, recalling a swell mixture of Revolver-era melodies against David Fridmann turn of the century masterpieces (The Soft Bulletin, Deserter Songs, etc.). Yet through it all, you get the sense that Tame Impala are focused on the masterpiece that Lonerism already hints at with record number two.
7.) High On FireDe Vermis Mysteriss
Shit’s gettin’ serious in Matt Pike‘s world as he now has HOF rockin’ out the HP Lovecraft like some book readin’ mo fogie. Pike’s always been a smart fella, but I have to admit that I was not expecting him to take this band, this far, this good. They’ve done nothing new with their formula except 1.) become really friggin tight together and 2.) jump on the concept album tip to show off said chops. The production has been dialed down a bit compared to Snakes For The Devine, which is a bit unsettling at first. Normally, such heaviness is a match for the full spectrum treatment, but HOF take the entire concept premise and milk it for nothing much more than an hour-long slugfest of riffage. And that’s fine by me. It makes De Vermis Mysteriss yet another winner in HOF’s growing catalog of necessities.
8.) RushClockwork Angels
I honestly thought that Snakes and Arrows would probably be as good as a late career Rush album as we’d see, but they’ve clearly proven my cynicism wrong with Clockwork Angels. Not only does Rush’s bazillionth long-player turn on the afterburners compared to its predecessor; it ranks as one of the band’s best records in their entire catalog. It gently incorporates nearly all phases of the band’s career while never sounding nostalgic. In fact, that’s what makes Clockwork Angels such a triumph: it sounds like they’re just getting started.
9.) SpiritualizedSweet Heart Sweet Light
Another phoenix of a record, even though it’s actually the second record of redemption. After nearly writing off Jason Pierce mid-decade, he’s returned with a record of traditional dread that has an admirable sprinkle of optimism. It’s grand, it’s thoughtful, and it reaffirms Pierce’s status in today’s rock echelon of brilliant performers. He put’s it best on the track “Freedom,” “This is dedicated baby, what more can I say”.
10.) Sweet Billy PilgrimCrown and Treaty
At its core, Crown and Treaty is a pop album, if only in the sense that it defies logical categorization. The band swings with age beyond their actual years, transforming the three to four minute song structure into something very wise beyond the traditional pop format. There’s tons going on throughout their songs, but everything sounds wonderfully organic and pure. Crown and Treaty is a record that’s not easily forgotten and it begins with each repeated listen.
11.) The MenOpen Your Heart
For a record that’s admittedly all over the place, Open Your Heart is surprisingly convincing regardless of what band they’re emulating. Sure, you’d be better served to visit the originals (too many to mention) but The Men make that process seem like too much work. Generally speaking, if you’ve followed any post-punk band in the past thirty years that counts the electric guitar as their primary source of energy, there’s something for you on Open Your Heart.
12.) OFF!Off!
Punk rock that sounds like it came from the vaults some three decades ago, mouthed from a dude that was actually making waves during that time. Keith Morris has found some younger blood to help fuel all of this startling accuracy and none of it pretends to be something more than what it is: a flash of SoCal punk rock for a time when that is all that’s required.
13.) Van HalenA Different Kind Of Truth
They had everyone frightened when lead-off single “Tattoo” was released, but even the doubters found out that it was probably the worse song found on the first real Van Halen album in 28 years. With a gap that long, it’s pretty remarkable that A Different Kind Of Truth is even remotely listenable. Not only is it listenable, it smokes more than it really needs to. We were all just getting comfortable with the notion that Diamond Dave was even in the same room as Eddie and Alex, and here they are releasing a record that is on par with when we last heard them together.

Honorable Mention (aka 'The Extra Dozen')

14.) Pig DestroyerBook Burner
15.) Alabama ShakesBoys and Girls
16.) TennisYoung & Old
17.) DIIVOshin
18.) Jack White - Blunderbuss
19.) Jamey JohnsonLiving For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran
20.) Godspeed You Black Emperor!Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
21.) Lotus AtlasSpooky Action At A Distance
22.) Bob DylanTempest
23.) Bob MouldSilver Age
24.) Bruno MarsUnorthodox Jukebox
25.) Saint Vitus – Lillie F-65
26.) Accept - Stalingrad


Cousin J said...

Unfortunately, being that there is SO MUCH more music being released each year due to recording costs plumeting, I have not heard a lot of what is on your list. But what I have heard, I really like. And I will make an effort to hear as much of it as possible. It was a good year for music and I agree, there is good music being released nearly every year. People just have to be more proactive each year to find it.

That's a long way getting around to offering a few suggestions that I didn't see on your list. I am in no way suggesting that they belong your list because, as I stated above, I haven't heard all of the releases. And your list is your list and mine is mine. We can only list what we hear. Anyway, these are some of the things I liked in 2012. You might find them interesting. All 2012 releases, fyi.

Pallbearer - Sorrow & Extinction.
Heavy Doom metal with clean vocals via Little Rock.

Royal Thunder - Cvi.
Another metal band from Atlanta, must be something in the water. Nice female vocals a la Robert Plant.

Bell Witch - Longing.
Heavy, plodding doom

Astra - Black Chord.
Prog-like metal. Like a lost 70's classic. No, really.

Over Kill - The Electric Age
New Jersey old school churn out yet another uncompromising slab.

Isidore - Life Somewhere Else.
Jeffrey Cain (Remy Zero) & Steve Kilbey side project. Mellow, atmosphereic.

I also really liked Dylan's Tempest which, if pressed, I might say was my favorite release of the year & Saint Vitus's Lillie: F-65 for obvious reasons.

Doom on! Looking forward to 2013!

Todd Totale said...

Can't believe I forgot about that Saint Vitus record. Loved that one earlier this summer. Amended the list and moved Vitus at #25 and knocked out the Leonard Cohen record. That one just made me feel old anyway. I'll check out some of these records.