J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

J's Indie/Rock Mayhem - 19th December 2012
The Top 25 Albums of 2012

[Welcome to the 11th annual J's Indie/Rock Mayhem Top 25 Albums of the Year. It's always a lot of fun putting this list together, but the agony was breathtaking this year. Not only in who got on the list - there are always a number of great records that are worth talking about, but don't make the cut - but in how the top ten, especially, were organized. There were several last minute shuffles. I think I'm pretty happy with the end result. In the comments below, share your own lists from this year as well as what you think of the albums on this list and where you think music is heading in 2013.

Now, lets go. Onward.]

J's Indie/Rock Podcat: Top 25 Albums of 2012 show

25. (tie) Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man in the Universe / Redd Kross - Researching the Blues: A pretty diverse pair of records to be tied together, but Bobby Womack's return with Damon Albarn at the boards was nothing short of amazing and Redd Kross's first record since the mid-90s was also pretty miraculous. Both records were way better than you might have expected and in the former case showed an old dog can learn new tricks when paired with a sympathetic mind, and in the latter that the old dogs can still crank out the old tricks better than almost anyone. Just tremendous. Played - "Please Forgive My Heart" (Womack) and "Dracula's Daughters" (Redd Kross)

24. Shana Falana - In the Light : This EP landed in my inbox back in the spring, totally unsolicited, and ended up being one of my return listens for the whole year. There's not a lot here I haven't heard before, but echoing contemporaries like Wye Oak and a mix of old Slumberland and 4AD records, Shana Falana created a mesmerizing EP that makes me very interested in what else she has coming. Played - "Tragic"

23. Wild Nothing - Nocturne: Their previous album made my year-end list as well, but Nocturne is a bit more subtle. It is a grower of a record, though its gorgeous layers are immediate. It's the obvious mark of a band evolving - and sometimes those steps are rockier than you'd like. It marks a great future for a band that has had an excellent past so far, however. Played - "Nocturne"

22. Patti Smith - Banga: Patti's first new studio material in eight years or so came on the heels of her winning the National Book Award for her excellent autobiography about herself and Robert Mapplethorpe. And it's a great, great record that gives us stabs of pop excellence, the winding epics she made her name on and even stabs at unfamiliar genres. I have enjoyed this record a lot this year whenever I'm in an absorbing, contemplative mood. I imagine I'll return to it for the same reason for years to come. Played - "Mosaic"

21. Field Report - Field Report: When Conrad Plymouth came near the top my year end list a couple of years ago, I was really wowed by this band that seemed to emerge from nowhere. I should have known better. And now Field Report - also the work of Chris Porterfield, same as Conrad Plymouth - comes roaring out with this stellar debut. Quiet and overwhelming in its ease, there's also the fact that some Conrad Plymouth songs are revisited and new songs are given and it's one of this years most purely beautiful works. Played - "Fergus Falls"

20. Delta Spirit - Delta Spirit: The unstoppable upbeat rock machine that is Delta Spirit doesn't seem to be flagging. This is their third record and their third to be listed on my year-end list. It's just kind of ridiculous at this point how good this band is and why haven't I seen them live yet? Absurd. Played - "California"

19. Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man: I have been a bit behind in engaging with this band's music, but I'm glad I got on board for this album. There are comparisons to be made, but I think it's the singular sound Bat for Lashes creates that makes this music as winning as it is. It's an album that rewards its close listeners. Played - "Lilies"

18. Lightships - Electric Cables: The first solo work from Teenage Fanclub's Gerard Love, Lightships is a gorgeous record that just underlines why Love has contributed among my favorite Teenage Fanclub songs from over their 20 years of recording. This is just a stellar record of low-key power pop - if there was a version of the Quiet Storm for Scottish indie, maybe, just maybe, this is it. Played - "Two Lines"

17. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again: From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "The sound of an obvious savant taking the lessons of his teachers damn seriously, Home Again is remarkable for a lot of reasons, but especially Kiwanuka’s age, 24. To have so thoroughly absorbed the sounds of not only soul and R&B legends like Bill Withers and Otis Redding, but also the sharp songwriting and delivery of Randy Newman so early in his career proves the serious mettle of the man behind the microphone. Home Again is a gorgeous record that feels lived in and warm from moment one." Played - "I'm Getting Ready"

16. Patterson Hood - Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance: From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "Patterson Hood’s solo excursions from the Drive-by Truckers have become increasingly strong, and his latest, with at least two members of DBT on board, is his strongest yet. There is a lot of memory in this record – departed loved ones and fellow songwriters; past relationships and nights lost – but the reflective nature hits its apex in “Disappear,” a song that divines the origins of an all too-human adult fault and both excuses and damns the narrator simultaneously. It’s a bountiful record and a reminder of just how good a songwriter Hood truly can be." Played - "12:01"

15. The Raveonettes - Observator: I got on board with this band when their debut came rattling out, but then lost them somewhere along the way. That changed with 2009's In and Out of Control and the band has been on a hot streak since. They haven't so much changed their style - still Jesus and Mary Chain/pop-noise disciples of the highest order - but they are in a songwriting stride that would be enviable by most anyone. Played - "She Owns the Streets"

14. Royal Baths - Better Luck Next Life: Echoing some of my favorite bands of recent years - especially the fantastic Black Mountain - Royal Baths give a dark, stoner feel to some heavy music. Deep Purple and Rainbow just don't get enough credit anymore, do they? Maybe these guys will fix that. Played - "Nightmare Voodoo"

13. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light: From  my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "There really is no band that sounds exactly like Spiritualized, and that’s clearly because of the singular vision of Jason Pierce. Sweet Heart Sweet Light sounds familiar – the smoothed out T. Rex of “Little Girl”; the low-key Stones of “Freedom”; the Lou Reed of, well, everything – but Spiritualized is like the musical version of a Magic Eye puzzle. We recognize the shapes that create the background, but when the 3D sailboat finally emerges from the scenery, it always takes us by surprise." Played - "Little Girl"

12. Young Prisms - In Between: From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "It takes skill to pull at genre touchstones well. It takes art to raise your work beyond that. In Between is a record that transcends its obvious influences – My Bloody Valentine, C-86 music, This Mortal Coil, His Name Is Alive – and creates something very much of this moment, not some imagined and interpreted version of the past. It’s exactly where art should take its influences – a way of witnessing the present through a lens of the past." Played - "Dead Flowers"

11. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp: From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "There is something to be said for hearing an artist hit their stride for the first time. Sharon Van Etten’s previous work has been stellar, but Tramp is the sound of something truly arriving. Aaron Dessner (The National) gives her incredibly sympathetic production, and the resulting mix of blisteringly strong songwriting and musical accompaniment gives Van Etten’s voice, here with a depth and power always hinted at but not quite maximized, the showcase it has needed." Played - "Warsaw"

10. Calexico - Algiers: A double album is a sound to behold - and usually it comes with some serious drawbacks. Filler is often more common than normal, but Calexico built an amazing record that sounds like a great amalgamation of the outfit's long and storied career and like a look forward as well. And there's a ton of great music here. Here's to double albums done very well. Played - "Splitter"

9. P.O.S. - We Don't Even Live Here: There's so much brilliance to this album - the production, the lyrics, the everything. Where else can you hear a song like "Fuck Your Stuff," one of the greatest parodies of materialistic/greed-driven hip-hop I've heard? Turn it on its head and take the anti-materialism to its extremes - "Molotov cocktails on me like accessories." Clearly, there's great word play at work. It's also got some of Stef's most moving songs to date and the result is one of his finest hours as an artist. I need more weird friends like this. Played - "Fire in the Hole/Arrow to the Action"

8. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory: Do Cloud Nothings make me feel old? Yeah, kind of. I mean, they're clearly channeling a brand of indie-rock that I grew up with and now has been around long enough to influence a new set of kids. But are they good enough to make me feel young still? Absolutely. This record is a tour-de-force of music proving, finally, that teenage angst has paid off well. Played - "No Future No Past"

7. Richard Hawley - Standing at the Sky's Edge: From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "Richard Hawley has a voice out of time. Its deep croon reflects someone well versed in an older style of music that doesn’t get name checked by bands that often. But Standing at the Sky’s Edge pulls from shoegaze, psychedelia, Leonard Cohen and a vast array of rock and roll to create an album that surges – coming in loud and hypnotic, down to a melancholic middle and then back up for a chaotic and uncertain finish – over you. It’s an experience, a record to get lost in, and find yourself eager to get lost all over again when it’s finished." Played - "Standing at the Sky's Edge"

6. Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action at a Distance: The second release under this name for Deerhunter's Lockett Pundt, Spooky Action.. is a mesmerizing swirl of a record. There are great pop songs, soaring moments of hypnotic drone and fuzz and murmured vocals. It's just a great record. Period. I don't know what else to say. Played - "Remember Our Days"

5. Japandroids - Celebration Rock: This is the best pure rock and roll record of this year. Everything great about rock and roll, really. The Replacements, Bruce Springsteen, the Gun Club, Husker Du. Just all of it rolled into one, tremendous, pedal-to-the-floor rock and roll album that doesn't let up through all eight songs. This is celebration rock indeed. Played - "The Nights of Wine and Roses"

4. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music: There are so many complex things going on on this record it aches to think of them all. El-P's inspired production; the acknowledged mixed thoughts at the heart of Killer Mike's lyrics; the deep South funk of Mike's flow that pulls the same out of El-P's music. This is a tremendous record that is as thought provoking as it is ass-shake-promoting. Would that more records were this all around satisfying. Played - "Willie Burke Sherwood"

3. Father John Misty - Fear Fun: I came to this record late in the year. I did not do my due diligence. This is one of the most amazing albums of 2012 - equal parts Dylan and Leonard Cohen and surrealist English folk-revival whisper. I can't say enough good stuff about this album, honestly, and if you listen to it and don't get what's right and amazing about it, I'm not sure if we see music in quite the same way. There's nothing wrong with that, but Fear Fun is about the closest thing to a litmus test for musical personalities that I can think of. Played - "Only Son of the Ladiesman"

2. Jim White - Where It Hits You: From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "Jim White’s albums always have a thematic resonance to them, but Where It Hits You finds something unique – songs primarily written before his separation from his wife, recorded primarily after. The hopeful “Chase the Dark Away” becomes a lament for opportunity lost; the aching “Epilogue to a Marriage” spirals out from its specific origin story to take in any number of relationships. But the downright brilliant “Why It’s Cool” is White’s career and life in a nutshell. This is White’s finest songwriting hour and possibly his finest album to date and you can hear it in every word he sings." Played - "Epilogue to a Marriage"

1. Tame Impala - Lonerism:  Amplifying the post-psychedelic leanings of their 2010 debut, Tame Impala created a winning mosaic of isolation and self-reflection. It can be hard sometimes to hear the emotion in music this artfully composed in the studio, but Lonerism is a record that reveals itself slowly, even beyond its immediate sonic impact. It's a smart and thoughtful record that leads to endless foot-tapping as well - a tremendous combination. Played - "Apocalypse Dreams"

That'll do it. I'll be back in January with the usual mix of new and classic stuff. 2012 was pretty great for music - here's hoping 2013 is even better. Happy Holidays and New Year! Take care.

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