Friday, December 21, 2012


There were quite a few good albums released in 2012.  As you will see by the list of ones I still need to hear (I included that at the end), there are a lot of ones people seem to like that I never got around to!  This was more of a year of "back-filling", as I went more for filling in missing pieces in my CD collection.  But of all the new ones I did hear, this pretty much represents what I think was best.  And there could well be some ones I heard and simply forgot to list...  if I find this is the case, I will feel free to add some of those to the list.

1. Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Big Moon Ritual - Think of a nice mix of Black Crowes, Allman Brothers Band and Grateful Dead.  The quality of recording is excellent, and the album's seven songs are epic:  none are less than seven minutes in length but they are all captivating.  Robinson's voice is as good as always, sometimes craggy, sometimes smooth and soothing.  Neal Casal's guitar-playing channels Jerry Garcia in places, and in a very good way.

2. Tame Impala - Lonerism - Modern psychedelic pop/rock at its finest.  It isn't just all about the sound, either.  The songs are very good.  The music is full of references to the Beatles and early Pink Floyd, and the singing and playing have moved up a notch since their first full-length album "Innerspeaker".  Kevin Parker's voice definitely channels John Lennon at times.  This album is what I consider "ear candy".  And because these guys are all only in their mid-twenties, I have hope that they will put out lots more music.

3. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill - Neil can still bring it, even at his age.  Some great long tracks here, including "Ramada Inn".  The songwriting and playing is still good.  I had the pleasure of seeing Neil and the Horse perform in November...  wonderful show!

4. Rush - Clockwork Angels - One of the more creative and best-sounding bands on the planet puts out a veritable banquet of new material.  How it took these prog-rock icons so long to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame utterly escapes me.

5. Mark Lanagan Band - Blues Funeral - Gravel-voiced hard-living Lanegan has put together a fine collection of songs.  Gritty and grimy stuff, but all beautiful at the same time.  These are songs about life and living, and about finding solace when you can... and maybe even salvation.  I took the above picture of him performing with his band at the Sasquatch Festival in May.

6. Pinback - Information Retrieved - Intricate guitar patterns, angular melodies, good singing, and math-rock at its finest.  Guitars are played "clean" for the most part.  Some of the songs start out sounding almost like pop, but then the music quickly becomes fascinating.

7. Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man - Darky beautiful, lush electronic-based songs that are immersed in dreams. Natasha Khan is Bat For Lashes.  Her sound is described as "bold" and "vivid" by some, and I believe that is apt.  There is some Kate Bush influence here, for sure.

8.  Shoes - Ignition - If you like "power pop" at all, and if you lament the lack of its presence in today's music, it's good to know that Shoes are around.  This is a reunion album...  they hadn't put out a record in years, but they still sound as good as ever.  The track "Hot Mess"has a wonderful Stones touch about it, and there are plenty of other good songs on this one too.

9. Grizzly Bear - Shields - Psychedelic alt-rock with all kinds of beautiful tones and sounds, and as always, with underlying tension throughout.  Ed Droste's vocals get better with each album, and this album is darker than the more accessible "Vickatimiest" of a few years ago.

10. Guided By Voices - Let's Go Eat The Factory
11. Guided By Voices - Class Clown Spots A UFO
12. Guided By Voices - The Bears For Lunch - These three albums were all released in 2012 by the ultra-prolific Robert Pollard and the reunited "classic" GbV lineup, and I think of it as a sort of three-part release.  Lots of moments of greatness in these, whether for seasoned fans or for newcomers.  The same gift for melody as always, with some good playing and some nice songs by the "other guy" in the band, Tobin Sprout.  Also, the usual fairly-high quota of strangeness with some goofy "low-fi" moments!

13. John Cale - Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood - The guy is 71 years old and still puts out good music. Nice uses of electronics, interesting lyrics, good song arrangements, and above all, great expressive vocals.  He uses an autotuner on a couple of tracks, but I forgive him for it.  8-)

14. The Helio Sequence - Negotiations - The duo from Beaverton finesses their soundboards for some more of the finest-sounding gentle psychedelic rock around.  Pleasant, atmospheric, and thoughtful.

15. Joe Walsh - Analog Man - How great is it to hear new music by one of rock music's best guitarists, who also happens to still have a great sense of humor and still writes good songs?  It is very great!

16. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light - More good space-rock from Jason Pierce and his band.  Some of it is challenging, some of it is just gut-bucket.  Great stuff.

17. Maserati - Maserati VII - Intense, mathy instrumental music with all kinds of cool textures and patterns.

18. Chris Robinson Brotherhood - The Magic Door - CRB isn't quite up to the level of Guided By Voices for being prolific, but two albums in one year is pretty cool...  and this is one is also a great listen.  I love Chris Robinson's voice.

19. Brian Jonestown Massacre - Aufheben - Not as dance-influenced as their last one ("Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?") but still very nice.  This time Anton Newcombe and his group use some Middle Eastern touches, and more of a retro-rock sound.

20. Sigur Ros - Valtari - More glacial music from Iceland.  It's all about the sound.

21. Punch Brothers - Who's Feeling Young Now? - Fun album by a band that uses traditional bluegrass instrumentation but whose music is more experimental, with progressive rock influences at times.  They do a wonderful version of "Kid A" by Radiohead, all done on acoustic instruments...  that track in and of itself is worth the price of admission.

22. Alabama Shakes - Boys And Girls - Brittany Howard's voice is amazing.  The songs aren't bad, and are basic Southern R & B/soul music.  But this is mostly about Brittany.  Check her out.

23. Godspeed! You Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! - Dark ambient post-rock with some serious moods.  A rather long hiatus from recording didn't affect their ability to capture intense feeling.  It's almost too intense in places.

24. Dandy Warhols - This Machine - Not up there with some of their previous efforts, but "Rest Your Head" and "I Am Free" are great tracks.  And their take on "Sixteen Tons" is fun.  I love it when Courtney Taylor-Taylor sings in his deep bass voice...

25. Dan Deacon - America - Good upbeat electronica, makes me want to get up and dance.

Honorable Mention (stuff I like that didn't quite crack my Top 25):

Robot Monkey Arm EP - This is worth checking out.  All kinds of moods and styles, and all in a short space of time.  It's like a little mini musical tour of sorts, full of good humor and good playing.

Of Monsters And Men - My Head Is An Animal - These Icelanders are kind of the diametric opposite of Sigur Ros, in that this is a fun album with all kinds of great melodic hooks and sing-along tunes.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Americana - Not a great album by any means, but it was sure a fun way for Crazy Horse to get back together.

Silversun Pickups - Neck Of The Woods - Smooth, atmospheric, beautifully played and nicely-recorded.

Dwight Yoakam - Three Pears - I always like this guy's stuff.

Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes - I don't really connect with this guy's music, but it's not irritating and is generally pretty nice.  Different drum-sampling/percussion effects might have elevated this one into my Top 25.

Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur - A good singer-songwriter, lots of emotion in her stuff.

Justin Townes Earle - Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now - Another good singer-songwriter and also an excellent guitarist.  I had the good fortune of seeing him perform in Seattle in July.  The title track from the album is one of my favorite songs of the year.

Jack White - Blunderbuss - I'm usually not a fan of Jack, but after seeing him perform at The Gorge last May I have a new level of appreciation for him.  I find this to be a challenging album to listen to, but I generally like it.  It is interesting music, for sure, and yes, he IS a great guitarist.

Smashing Pumpkins - Oceania - there are some tracks near the middle-to-later part of this album that recall the Pumpkin's glory days (back in "Siamese Dreams" and "Mellon Collie" times).  When Billy Corgan sings, he still tends to sound like he is straining to have a painful bowel movement...  but that is one of the things I love about Smashing Pumpkins!  8-)


Anathema - Weather Systems - For my tastes, nowhere near the level of "We're Here Because We're Here".

The Shins - Port Of Morrow - It seems to me the focus for band-leader James Mercer has gone from playfulness to being elaborate and clever...  to my ear, the music just doesn't have the kind of spontaneity it seemed to have on the first couple of Shins albums.  But Mercer's voice is still as amazing as ever, so this is still listenable.

Beach House - Bloom - It doesn't seem to pack the same level of emotion I found on "Teen Dream", and while it all sounds good, I find it rather bland.

Animal Collective - Centipede HZ - For all the hype this band gets, I just don't get them.  I don't know how I would describe this record...  hallucinogenic bubble-gum music, maybe?  It sounds simultaneously intelligent and mindless.

I Still Need To Hear:

Lambchop - Mr. M.
Brian Eno - Lux
Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
Shearwater - Animal Joy
Band of Horses - Mirage Rock
Bob Dylan - Tempest
The XX - Coexist
Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
The Walkmen - Heaven
+ a whole bunch of others, I'm sure...

"What!?  You haven't heard the Dylan yet?  You're kidding, Snave!"


Not to worry, I will get to those which are as yet unheard


WELL...  looks like we survived the Mayan apocalypse.

Seriously, I hardly gave this one a second thought.  I read a couple of books about it a few years ago, and ended up deciding the guys who were carving the calendar got distracted or something and just never finished it.

After some conservative friends and relatives got me thinking "Y2K" was going to plunge us into dark times and I actually stocked up on some food and supplies for THAT, I have pretty much sworn off stuff like "end of the world" prophecies.

A bit after "Y2K" came and went without any major issues, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and learned that one of the ways it affects me is that I worry about things over which I have little to no control.  I was at the shrink's office one day visiting with him.  He told me to look at the tree outside his office window.  It was a tall fir tree.

He said something to the effect of "If I worried about things the way you do, I would spend a good deal of my time worrying about that tree falling over and hitting my building.  That's a rather absurd idea, because the tree is tall and strong.  I could be waiting for a long, long time.  Is that a useful way for me to spend my time?"

Since that time, I've been able to keep much of the needless worrying in check and focus more on things over which I DO have control.

For me, this applies not just to natural phenomena like wildfires burning down the hillsides into town, or maybe earthquakes hitting the area.  It has also come to apply to things like worrying about what nefarious things the Republican party is up to, worrying about the "fiscal cliff", or about whether or not some guy with assault weapons is going to shoot kids at one of the local schools.  Worrying about slippery slope arguments and going over those scenarios in my mind is also something I haven't been spending as much time on.

There are things I am concerned about, for sure.  And of course I have opinions about lots and lots of things.

But hey, the fact that we ARE all still here after another one of these prophecies didn't come true tells me that humanity can decide to create its own reality because it's very possible there is nothing out there making our decisions for us, nothing is preordained, and nothing that says positive change is impossible.

Time to put worrying about stuff like the Mayan calendar aside, and take a closer look at reality.  Reality is where we are, it is what we think, it is what we are, and the end product of those factors and others is what we do.

So...  yes.  This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, the Age of Aquarius...  Aquarius!!   LOLOL

The time to hesitate is through, no time to wallow in the mire...

For united we stand, divided we fall.

Have a great Christmas, and I hope 2013 is a great year for everyone.