Alright fuckers, here it is. Here’s my ten favorite records of 2012. Still, like I mentioned before, most of my top 20 is somewhat interchangeable. Really, though, it has been a pretty incredible year for music. Now, by my count, 9 records from my list were self-released. That’s a shit ton of bands doing things on their own and I totally support that. The other ridiculous number that jumps out at me is that our pals over at Tiny Engines are responsible for 5 records, a full 10%, on this list. Well done guys. So this is it. You can check out the first 4 parts of this list and all my other 2012 lists here. Enjoy and leave a comment if you’re so inclined.
10. Luther – Let’s Get You Somewhere Else (Chunksaah)
Luther is a relatively young band from Philadelphia and their latest record, Let’s Get You Somewhere Else, is filled with the sort of punky power-pop that is so catchy it might bore a hole in your brain. Unlike a lot of their regional contemporaries, Luther’s sound is a bit more straightforward and less chaotic but no more less effective. Musically the band channels the likes of Cheap Girls, Knapsack, and that last self-titled Lemonheads album while the vocals remind me of both Chris McCaughan (Lawrence Arms) and Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum). The album was also produced by Pete Steinkopf from The Bouncing Souls. Really, what else do you need to know?
MP3: Luther – Heavy Money
9. Big Awesome – Birdfeeder EP (Self-Released)
The Birdfeeder EP is filled with four songs of the best newfangled emo you’ll find anywhere in 2012. Big Awesome may have only given us 10 minutes of music, but they don’t waste a single moment of it. The band effectively matches lilting basslines, twinklecore guitars and a touch of punk energy in way that accentuates the brevity of the songs here and makes playing this multiple times impossible. The EP ends on the highest note possible as the band belts out, “I spent all my time writing songs that don’t mean anything (so) I will waste no time living life and loving everything.” Fucking perfect.
MP3: Big Awesome – Drawing A Line In The Sand
8. Dikembe – Broad Shoulders (Tiny Engines)
Of all the albums on this list, I’ve had the hardest time writing even just a few sentences about this one. Here goes. Broad Shoulders is the debut full-length from Gainesville, Florida’s Dikembe. It’s a heady blast of Kinsella-esqe emo that sounds as anxious as it is anchored. Sure, there are the requisite twinkling guitars, but it’s the band’s instrumental interplay, especially from the rhythm section, that is especially impressive. The vocals have an almost spoken-not-sung quality that’s also quite unique. I really love this record even though I can’t say exactly why. RIYL: Wavelets, You Blew It, Cap’n Jazz, etc…
MP3: Dikembe – Apology Not Fucking Accepted
7. Hop Along – Get Disowned (Hot Green)
The first time I tried to listen to this album, I didn’t make it through the first song. The next time I listened to it, I was completely blown away. Hop Along is a band that, on Get Disowned, combines passionate and disjointed indie rock with herky jerky acoustic freak folk. It’s like seeing the artistry and beauty in a building demolition. Frontwoman Frances Quinlan’s vocals are incredible even if, perhaps, a bit of an acquired taste. She weaves quivering melodies in and out of a fractured-yet-cohesive and almost collaged musical backdrop. Truly amazing stuff. RIYL: Julie Doiron, Built To Spill, Laura Veirs, etc…
MP3: Hop Along – Tibetan Pop Stars
6. Everyone Everywhere – Everyone Everywhere (Self Released)
Everyone Everywhere’s second self-titled album is significantly better than their first and it finds the paint painting their somewhat-hazy emo sound on an even broader canvas this time around. The band still has a bit of a Promise Ring vibe but a little less so than on their last album. The songs are a bit adventurous but so damn hummable that it sounds a little like a lazy sunny Saturday afternoon. I’m not good at writing about emo records. Twinklecore.
MP3: Everyone Everywhere – The Future
4. Erica Freas – Belly (Rumbletowne)
Every single time I’ve listened to Erica Freas’ new album, Belly, I’ve gotten goosebumps. It’s really that good. You might know her as the vocalist/guitarist in the pop-punk band RVIVR who wasn’t in Latterman, but, make no mistake, this is certainly not a punk record. Belly is a wickedly simple album that’s basically nothing more than Erica’s voice and acoustic guitar yet it manages to, almost instantly, completely captivate me. Additionally, the unpolished sound of the recording accentuates her almost-fragile delivery and makes the emotion in her poetry just jump out of the speakers.
MP3: Erica Freas – Spider Song
4. Classics Of Love – Classics Of Love (Asian Man)
Classics Of Love is Jesse Michaels’ current band. Jesse Michaels was the singer for Operation Ivy. This record, their debut self-titled full-length, is amazing. Jesse’s vocals are unmistakable and, musically, it’s not completely dissimilar to Operation Ivy. Just imagine less ska and a way tighter and more direct punk sound and you’ll be right on track. Listening to this album and just how furiously it is delivered really takes me back. It’s an energetic record that’s both nostalgic and completely refreshing.
MP3: Classics Of Love – Gunshow
3. Bill Fay – Life Is People (Dead Oceans)
Life Is People is the first album of new material that Bill Fay has officially released in over 40 years and it is amazing. Since I know my audience here, just imagine if Frank Turner was 70 years old and played piano instead of guitar and you might be onto some sort of description. Fay’s weathered voice sounds ragged and aged, but it only makes the lyrics that much more poignant. His melodies are beautiful and the arrangements always seem to perfectly suit the song. And if just hearing new material from this legendary Englishman, he covers a Wilco song and gets help from Jeff Tweedy on another one. A truly brilliant and beautiful album. RIYL: Cat Stevens, Mark Knopfler, Frank Turner, etc…
MP3: Bill Fay – There Is A Valley
2. Mixtapes – Even On The Worst Nights (No Sleep)
On Even On The Worst Nights Mixtapes continues to play an ultra-catchy brand of pop-punk with near-constant male/female vocal harmonies that is distinctly their own. The record sounds bigger, runs longer and perfectly captures what Mixtapes does. You can read my full review of the album here.
MP3: Mixtapes – Something Better
1. Red Collar – Welcome Home (Tiny Engines)
With their latest full-length release, Welcome Home, Durham, North Carolina’s Red Collar again delivers a modern amped-up take on Americana. The jagged and angular post-punk of Pilgrim has been turned down a little, making Welcome Home a decidedly more even-tempered record than its predecessor. Sure, this is WAY noisier than any record Springsteen ever made, but the focus here is really on the great songs with big Heartland sized melodies… and loud guitars. Loud guitars and the occasional splash of piano to go along with some massive sing-a-long hooks.
The overdriven rootsy guitars walk the line between the swagger of The Hold Steady and the introspection of Red Red Meat. These are songs that can make you want to drunkenly dance one moment and cry in your beer the next. Either way these are songs made for drinking to/with. Frontman J Kutchma’s wonderfully whiskey-soaked vocals also make everything even sound that much more tragic and beaten. It’s cross between Jon Snodgrass’ twang, John Reis’ sneer and Neil Diamond’s soulful croon.
Welcome Home’s sweet spot is driving mid-tempo rust-belt rock a la The Replacements, but there is a little bit of Southern twang and shades of Jawbreaker-y punk roughly woven into the early 90’s alt-rock fuzz that dances around its frayed edges. I hesitate to use the word atmospheric but the bouncing lead guitar lines that both anchor and propel Welcome Home forward are equal parts melody and airy texture.
This isn’t a slick record, but, rather, something closer to the opposite. It’s beautiful but it isn’t pretty. These are real and imperfect songs played with heart and soul by real and imperfect people. I find a little bit of perfection in that; in the unfixed bum note and occasional dragging beat. I can relate. So go right ahead and marvel at just how good everything the Tiny Engines label does is and then order up another round of drinks, stomp your dusty boots on the barroom floor and prepare to shout along. This is no exception. Welcome home.
MP3: Red Collar – American Me