Monday, December 17, 2012

My Top 12 Albums of 2012

2012 was a great music year for me. Not only did I break some personal ground and get involved with a band and play music in public settings (pubs!), but I also listened to a TON of new music, mostly thanks to cutting cable television and subscribing to rdio. (Seriously folks. Cut cable TV from your life. You'll miss it only a little, but gain so much more.)

My top 12 albums of the year, with a few short notes on each, follow. You'll notice a decidedly hard rock bent to my favorites. Why? I missed good, loud, shake-a-fist in the air Rock and Roll the past few years. Too many pop artists or shoe-gazing, acoustic troubadours seem to have populated the music landscape the past few years. This year a few new bands picked up the Rock and Roll torch and carried it. Not only new bands, but a few veterans got back in the game with solid records too.

So without further adieu, here's my top 12 albums of 2012!

Hands down, my favorite album of the year is Japandroids' Celebration Rock. Spatial, soaring, melodic, jangly, driving -- all of my favorite rock adjectives apply to their debut album. I love it.

Exactly the opposite of Japandroids are Swedish sisters First Aid Kit making music Americana music reminiscent of Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams. Different however, in their beautiful harmonies. The Lion's Roar's  "Emmylou" is my favorite song of the year. It's just gorgeous and pays homage to four great American artists too.

The Smashing Pumpkins roar back with Oceania. This album has no filler. It's Corgan and whatever company he's with back at what they do best: big, loud, expansive arena rock. I think it's fantastic.

Bob Mould, a long-time veteran and founding member of Hüsker Dü and Sugar, returns to brilliance with Silver Age. Might the "silver" in Silver Age refer to the color of his hair? Matters not. Bob returns to the spotlight and gets me to pull out all of my old Hüsker Dü and Sugar albums and reminds me why I fell in love with his music 20 years ago (or more!) in the first place.

Green Day. No kidding. The veteran punkers return to making short(ish), punk-pop songs that are a punch in the gut. I loved their Grammy winning rock and roll opera album American Idiot, but it's cool to see them kind of say with this album "Step aside, youngsters. Let us show you how it's done." I've never heard the band tighter and punchier and if it weren't for one song ("Kill the DJ"), this album would be pop rock perfection.

I hesitated putting The Lumineers' tremendous debut album on this list for fear that, reminiscing about the album, their irresistible tunes would be stuck in my head again until March 23rd. No matter ... it's worth it! "Ho Hey" or "Flowers in Your Hair" may be the songs that introduced many of us to the catchy Americana sounds of The Lumineers, but songs like "Stubborn Love" show me that this band is much more than 2 minute catchy melodies. In fact, I was so consumed by "Stubborn Love" mid-Summer that I easily listened to it over a hundred times while learning to sing and play it on my guitar.

Alabama Shakes' Boys and Girls is probably my most listened to album on this entire list. It actually took a little while to grown on me, but once it did, it's hold was unbreakable. It's mainly due to the powerhouse vocals of Brittany Howard. Watching YouTube videos of her captivated me. Such energy and sheer vocal strength. The day tickets went on sale for their late November show in Milwaukee went on sale, I snagged a pair. A few months went by and I nearly forgot why I was so determined why to get tickets to the show ... then I saw it. Wow. Ms. Howard blew me away. And the band was tight. I saw a few good shows this year, but this one is hard to top. I'll see them again at the drop of a hat.

This was first big album of 2012 for me.  Erika Wennerstrom of The Heartless Bastards has an unmistakable voice and the band employs meaty, fuzzy guitar riffs not unlike Keith Richards' finest. This is a great "roll the windows down on a warm summer day, crank to 11 and drive around the country" kind of album. Unfortunately I saw them at Summerfest and was disappointed. The music was perfectly played, but their stage presence was non existent. Someone should check the Leinenkugel's stage -- maybe they're still nailed to the floor in the same place. Still, a wonderful album.

For me, a highlight of 2012 was meeting Kristian Matsson -- The Tallest Man on Earth -- on the street outside of the Pabst Theater last Summer. The ironically named artist is not tall, but he is ENORMOUS in sound. Not only was his one-man show enthralling, his 2012 release There's No Leaving continued his songwriting and guitar mastery that dominated his earlier releases. I'm a huge fan. Kristian's future releases will continue to be day-of-release purchases for me.

Only within the past few weeks have I discovered and fallen for this album. An indy supergroup of sorts with members from Deer Tick (and/or Middle Brother), The Black Lips, Los Lobos, Dead Confederate and Six Finger Satellite, this album has a real Devil-may-care attitude. It swaggers and has a gritty honky tonk feel. I've been spinning it a ton the last month of the year instead of listening to Christmas music. "Hungover and Horny" may not be a Christmas tune, but it sure has got a toe-tappin' beat!

My favorite band of the new millennium -- The Avett Brothers -- released a new album after a nearly 5 year wait. It was worth the wait. It's stellar.

Hospitality's Hospitality sounds like nothing else on this list. Listening to it, one could well expect to forget what year it is. It has a bit of retro Brit-pop and Brook-pop sound (the band is from Brooklyn) with a lot of space between instruments. Listening with headphones, one can clearly hear the bass in the left corner of the room, the guitar in the right, and the vocals and drums right in the center.

It's hard to know when to stop listing albums I enjoyed last year. Others include Divine Fits, King Tuff, and Of Monsters and Men. These artists' albums also were played with heavy rotation.

I hope 2013 brings another year of great new music and a year from now I'll be listing my top 13 Albums of 2013!

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