Bri's Ramblin' 2012 Review
December 26th, 2012
Good God The Mayans were right in a sense weren't they? 2012 was horrific on so many fronts that the whole apocalypse thing really began to at least look possible. Along about December it was almost expected. The tragedy at Sandy Hook leaves us all feeling empty. What do you say? How do you explain? I have no answers. I do know this though. There are people that will have to find the will to go on after unimaginable loss. We have a responsibility to do the same.
And so December 21st came and went according to published reports. Panels of experts appearing on the 24 hour news channels reached an overall consensus that life on planet earth is continuing in some form. Artists we all love have spent a portion of 2012 planning for the months ahead. The first quarter of 2013 alone will bring music from Tegan and Sara, Bad Religion, Ra Ra Riot, and Atoms For Peace (Thom Yorke, Flea, etc). Cher has a comeback album planned too. (You know the old saying about cockroaches and Cher.) Meanwhile The Black Keys, Alice In Chains, Jimmy Eat World, Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs all bullishly bet we'd still be around to hear their work. Hell even Motorhead have a record in the pipeline. Lemmy will never die, at least as long as Motorhead keeps working. Devil's bargains are the hardest kind.
Let's get to it then. A random look back at some of the musical highlights of 2012 and there were many thank God. Let's do it quickly though. The Little Caesars Bowl is on tonight and for some damned reason I'm probably going to watch it. The below is in no particular order. I love lists, but have a hard time making them myself. Besides this ain't college football for crying out loud. (The Little Caesars Bowl is barely college football either now that I think of it.)
Albums I Loved
Delta Spirit "Delta Spirit"
This incredible album has turned up on exactly zero year-end lists I've seen. What the hell? The California five piece has, near as I can tell, an irony free approach. In our era of "yeah right" cynicism many are no doubt baffled by Delta Spirit's unabashed style. Also working against them is the abandonment of much of their alt-country roots for a more universal style. That right there is a recipe for critical backlash. Me? I love roots music as much as the next person, but I get what they're doing and heartily approve. I defy you to not listen to this record without being moved.
The Shins "Port Of Morrow"
Speaking of big risks/big rewards.... In 2007 The Shins reached new heights of commercial and critical acclaim with "Wincing The Night Away." In response James Mercer jettisoned his entire band, had two children, recorded the Broken Bells record with Dangermouse, and assembled an all new version of The Shins for "Port Of Morrow." We all wondered if Mercer had lost his mind.... that is until hearing this record. If his responsibility here is to the music, then he did the right thing. Of special note on the album is his rumination on violence "The Rifle Spiral," and the first single "Simple Song," which for my money are among the top songs of 2012.
Sharon Van Etten "Tramp"
I'm sensing a pattern here. I was looking for the real thing this year, anywhere I could find it. Brooklyn, New York isn't necessarily the first place you'd look, but I already knew where to find Van Etten. Her 2010 album "Epic" was so beautiful, and so stark. It haunted me for months. Seeing her live at the Wexner Center early in 2011 only sealed the deal. "Tramp" benefitted greatly from The National Aaron Dessner's deft hand behind the board. He helped Van Etten add a bit more flesh to the material without too much sonic weight.
Watershed "Brick and Mortar"
The existence of this album is self evident to anyone who read co-founder Joe Oestreich's book on the band "Hitless Wonder." It's a hilarious, touching story of art, commerce, brotherhood, cheap beer, and the utter ridiculousness of our dreams. That's why we give them up.... unless we don't. If you didn't, you'll understand Watershed and why they not only made a record and toured behind it, they also invited one of the best musicians in town to join up and challenge them. Joe Peppercorn added some smart organ here ("Little Mistakes") some barroom piano there ("American Muscle") and a song "On A Broken Radio" to the mix. And what you end up with is a smart record in keeping with their strengths and some fantastic colors added for good measure. "Brick and Mortar" sounds so effortless, and yet with Colin Gawel, Dave Masica, Peppercorn, and Oestreich all with growing young families, day jobs, and geographic challenges it was anything but. They do it for us, and of course for themselves too.
Alt J "An Awesome Wave"
Comparing them to Radiohead seems accurate and off base at the same time. Let's say they play in the same sandbox, but it's not fair to either. This album is arty, but not fussy and has a nice clean groove to it. I look forward to getting to know it better.
Fiona Apple "The Idler Wheel....."
Miss Apple has always gotten a bum rap I think. This probably started when she was barely out of her teens and writhing around half naked in the "Criminal" video. If you choose to only know her on that level you're cheating yourself. This record is so spare and brittle sounding. You can hear the room, and the ache and confusion never far from Miss Apple. Nothing quite like it this year.
Thee Oh Sees "Putrifers II"
I'm a sucker for guitar soaked psychedelic rock and there are few modern purveyors better than San Francisco's Thee Oh Sees. Try anything with their name on it, and starting here is recommended.
The Young Fresh Fellows "Tiempo De Lugo"
I wonder how this album would sound to my ears had I not seen this band more than just about any other. I've never seen them do a bad show, and they are often brilliant and rarely far from the mark on record as well. One of America's criminally ignored treasures and recommended for anyone who loves rock n roll.
The Whigs "Enjoy The Company"
Their first for new label New West finds them exploring their regional roots a bit more. You should see them live too. One of my favorite shows of 2012.
Guided By Voices "The Bears For Lunch"
The now two years or so reunited classic line up released two albums this year that I found... wanting. They weren't bad, but not great either. If December's "The Bears for Lunch" had been their only album this year we'd be hailing them comeback players of the year. That's the GBV way though. One record won't suffice where there's time for three. If you only hear one of the trio make it this one.
A List Of Shows I Saw This Year That Remind Me Why I Still Go To Shows
Moqwai- Bonnaroo Delta Spirit- Bonnaroo The Shins- Bonnaroo Radiohead- Bonnaroo Joy Formidable- Bonnaroo Delta Spirit- LC/Holiday Show Jon Spencer Blues Explosion- Newport The Whigs- Basement Mike Watt- Basement Watershed- Bluestone/Andymanathon Benefit Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments- Ace Of Cups Aerosmith/Cheap Trick- Nationwide Arena
And that does it I think. I'm sure I've missed a few things and for that I apologize. Here's to a better 2013!