Unlike so many publications that start making up their annual "best of" lists sometime in late September, I pride myself with procrastinating until the year is over. I don't profess to have heard every new album released last year. Nor do I try. I limit the new data input to the point where I still feel optimistic at the end of the day and not beaten down by a sense of duty. I don't think music listening should be like an all-you-can-eat-buffet. I need time to digest what I've heard. However, if I make a meaningful emotional connection with a musical one-night-stand, then that's cool, too. It's why I write things down.
I like to do things in lists of 25. Keeps it simple. Keeps it regular. It's in my contract. Do I remember all 25 of these albums? Absolutely not. But that's because my memory is not what it once was. It's why I write things down. I should also admit there are technically two releases here that came from my list of potentials in the first half of the year. They made more of an impression on me between July 12 and the third week of October.
For the record, I don't think anyone would like more than a few of these. I'd worry if we agree on too much. Just look at all the awful things people say about me.
25) Bob Dylan -- Tempest: The Senior Discount Award goes to… His voice is terrible even by Bob standards, but the band plays on.
24) Soundtrack of Our Lives -- Throw It To The Universe: At this point they've made too many albums for anyone but the totally obsessed to keep it straight. The sound is so dense and informed that it takes headphones to make sense of it. Though you're probably not supposed to make sense of it.
23) Permanent Collection -- Newly Wed Nearly Dead: The vocals can be charmingly amateurish in that 'I'm-in-a-garage-band-from-1984' kind of way. I'm a fan of Leaving Trains, The Psycho Daisies, The Prisoners, The Blackjacks and Dream Syndicate, so I consider this a huge compliment. Maybe you don't.
22) Black Wine -- Hollow Earth: Maybe it's the old dude in me, but this NJ punk group remind me of stuff I really liked when I was younger! Just the other day I sat in a diner and watched as young people walked in dressed exactly as me and my friends dressed back in 1992, which is essentially the same as 2012. Time is standing still. Back in the 1970s, only old people dressed like it was the 1940s or 1950s. Now we all dress alike. Is if ok if I borrow your hoodie?
21) Jeff Lynne -- Long Wave: No, it isn't an earth-shattering record and it need not be. It's pleasant. Lynne sounds like he was having fun tuning up the guitars and getting that odd clean-dirty sound that he excels at. Museum grade dirt!
20) Johnny Hickman -- Tilting: I didn't start liking this because Johnny was in Cracker, though I probably stuck around longer because I was familiar with his past work. I liked this because there were some decent guitar tones. It never sounds like he's trying too hard but that he's grown up listening to the right records so it just comes out of him.
19) Shoes -- Ignition: Always a struggling power-pop band -- production almost as bad as those Marshall Crenshaw albums -- the Shoes are still playing modestly interesting music that gets better the less you pay attention to it. If only they'd let it loose and let it bleed once in awhile.
18) Echo Lake -- Wild Peace: Critics who don't use the word 'shimmering' and reference a shoegaze band and still describe this 'South London quintet' (says iTunes) should be paid big bucks because, heck, that's exactly what it sounds like.
17) Will Johnson -- Scorpion: I don't care about how prolific an artist is, as long as the songs are good. Bob Pollard needs to hire an editor since he's clearly not up to the job. I'm hoping Will Johnson has learned this on his own. He only made two albums this year and one was with Jay Farrar, Anders Parker and Yim Yames, with words supplied by Woody Guthrie's estate. Scorpion was his day gig. Growing older and slowing down and losing touch with friends can be a good thing.
16) Ty Segall -- Twins: Segall is the new Will Johnson, apparently. He's got a bunch of projects going on. All of which might be completely wonderful, but I highly doubt it. If Black Sabbath only managed six songs (and two short instrumentals) on an album in their prime and Led Zeppelin settled on eight for Zoso and the Rolling Stones had to wring out every bead of sweat for the 18 songs that made up Exile (in retrospect, aren't those 'bonus' cuts from the 'Deluxe Version' now a big letdown?) then how it is possible for all these new geniuses to have so much music in them? Segall made at least three albums this year. Don't do it again, son.
15) Jason Lytle -- Dept. of Disappearance: I've included this one because John Kordosh, Y! Music's other blogger, claims I bear a resemblance to this guy and Kordosh should know since we're Facebook Friends! "Your Final Setting Sun" made me play itself over and over and to be that excited about a single cut is always preferable to being vaguely interested in an entire album.
14) Dwight Yoakam -- 3 Pears: I didn't see this one coming. I haven't much paid attention to this Gone-Hollywood cowboy since I first acknowledged his love for Bakersfield Country with his major label reissue of his debut in 1986 where I found it among Lords of the New Church and Joy Division albums at the college radio station. Why am I paying attention now? No idea. But on September 18 at 4:46 in the afternoon it sounded pretty good.
13) Lana Del Rey -- Born To Die / Paradise: After all my complaining about artists making too much music in a single year, I end up listing both albums by this hokey hype. Yeah, I know, a "Gangsta Nancy Sinatra!" Is she actually crap? Well, if she is and you like it, you could argue that crap is cool. If you don't like it, then it's just crap.
12) School of Seven Bells -- Put Your Sad Down (EP) and Devilhaus -- Devilhaus (EP): Since an EP is half an album, I can take two if I like. I decided to pick two totally opposite ensembles. School of Seven Bells are a romantic couple who play on their computers with synthesizers and create mechanical music that I imagine would sound fantastic as you drive your car off a bridge. Or maybe I'm an optimist. Devilhaus are a N.J. trio ('Hey, WTF are you lookin' at?') that I'd like to see kick their asses, just to prove loud, pounding rock and roll is still alive and capable of doing the most damage.
11) Swans -- The Seer: That Michael Gira now records in the bucolic Hudson Valley and his beloved Lower East Side is now a breeding ground for young entitled people with jobs is just another sign that anything you learned as a young person is now rendered meaningless. You don't need an advanced degree in Swansology to appreciate the apocalypse that occurs regularly at Gira's homestead. Jump in wherever you feel like it but for no wave's sake leave your shoes on!
10) Julian Cope -- Psychedelic Revolution: He praises the likes of Che Guevara and Leila Khaled. He sang about Khaled once before and it turned out he liked her picture, thought she was sexy. Che's like Jim Morrison. More people have the T-shirt than know anything about him. I don't listen to words anyhow, so I nestled in with the warm Mellotron and forgot where I was.
9) Joan Osborne -- Bring It On Home: The world might know her as the one who saw God riding on a bus, but Ms. Joan was always a roots-rocker before she got served by the guy in the Hooters. With her road band getting their just due as her studio band, she blows it out with true grit and a burning ring of fire. Sure, people come to check out her Stones cover, but they stay because that's just her getting started.
8) Mark Eitzel -- Don't Be A Stranger: Eitzel's always been the smartest, funniest and most poignant lyric writer when he decides to make you cry. Live, he's enjoying himself as "fake Tony Bennett" (his words, not mine), but on record he's more disciplined than that. He knows we all fell in love with him when he did "fake Nick Drake" (my words, not his) and for once he wants to please us or to trick us into thinking he wants to please us. Art is complicated. Just listen.
7) Donald Fagen -- Sunken Condos: Fagen's been worried about the apocalypse for decades, so it's fitting that he's encouraged somewhat by everything getting worse. At least in the end, he'll be right!
6) Bob Mould -- Silver Age: The press is making a big deal about how old rockers are doing quite well these days. Yet, let's not overshoot here. The Stones and the Who are doing fine for people their age, but it's all about 'not ruining' their classics like they did for decades. Fact is, Bob Mould wrote a decent album here that if you like aggressive electric guitar you'll enjoy quite a bit. On the truly bright side, this album is easily better than Under the Red Sky, so this Bob's got a chance to blow us away at 70!
5) Raveonettes -- Observator: I'm pretty sure they just use the same chords over and over and blur them together differently. Why mess with success?
4) Clinic -- Free Reign: I knew if we just gave it time a great band would come out of Liverpool again! It wasn't going to always only be about the Teardrop Explodes. There are songs underneath the crazy here and they don't do anything too annoying to ruin it.
3) Steve Forbert -- Over With You: I was never much of a Steve Forbert fan. In fact, one song aside, I wasn't one at all. But something clicks here. Maybe it's because his voice is weathered like Dylan's but not dead and bloated. The album's so intense you can play it in a dark room and wonder if he gets out alive.
2) Mike Doughty -- The Flip Is Another Honey: Fact is, Doughty's got a voice that draws me in and that means I can let him do plenty of things I might not let others try. His cover of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" could put him in Uncle Kracker territory (DANGER! DANGER!) but the Red House Painters' "Mistress" isn't the sound of a guy putting us on. Or maybe he is. Maybe he's that freakin' slick!
1) Jens Lekman -- I Know What Love Isn't: I'm not alone in my appreciation for Jens. But I don't know why other people like him. I don't often listen to lyrics very closely and I think, judging by the song titles, that that's what a lot of people dig. The 'jazz-hands' chords make me nervous, but when he plays his acoustic guitar like he's just found it for the first time he shows promise. But he still has much to unlearn and plenty of time to do so.
And here is the tally of the COMPLETE year:
Final Top 10 of 2012
Unfair advantage: Can -- The Lost Tapes
10) Clinic -- Free Reign
9) Chrome Cranks -- Ain't No Lies In Blood
8) Steve Forbert -- Over With You
7) Sun Kil Moon -- Among The Leaves
6) Mike Doughty -- The Flip Is Another Honey
5) Jens Lekman -- I Know What Love Isn't
4) Matt Boroff -- Filling In the Cracks
3) Lori Carson -- Another Year
2) Leonard Cohen -- Old Ideas
1) Richard Hawley -- Standing At The Sky's Edge