I don't think for a second that my dear and loyal readers share my taste in music. You're not crazy, are you? My taste can be easily defined as crap I like. It's not evolved in any way. But I do think it's weirdly picky. You could say I lack interest in modern metal, hip-hop, emo, dubstep, chillwave, reggae, blues, jazz, country, punk, ska, R&B, techno, electro-clash, pop and any other genre you might put forth. In fact, it appears I don't actually like music! Maybe I just like words.
OK, whatever it is, this is a list of 25 albums I listened to this year that made me a) crack a smile, b) feel friendlier towards my fellow man, c) think I was somehow connected to humanity, d) dream of world peace in a land where people put down their swords in favor of plowshares, link arm in arm and clap hands, with Vaseline Intensive Care, let the healing begin!
25) Various Artists -- Devil's Jukebox: Taboo 60s: OK, right off I'm cheating! It's listed as 2011 at Spotify, but so near the end of the year that I didn't hear it until 2012. Besides, all the music featured is from the 1960s, when everyone who was in a band apparently made a glorious noise. These songs encompass drugs, sex, rock 'n' roll with little spoken word pieces spliced between tunes by The Smoke, The Sonics, The Shandells, Max Romeo, Larry & The Blue Notes, Satan's Breed and James Brown! Let's hear it for Various Artists! The most versatile performer ever!
24) Brian Jonestown Massacre -- Aufheben: Anyone who has sat through Hype! knows what an interesting idea Anton Newcombe is. The chaos surrounding him is just unfathomable. Sure, everything he does sounds like one big noise, but if you like that noise, you can't go wrong.
23) Lee Ranaldo -- Between The Times and The Tides: As the hummable Sonic Youther, Ranaldo defies his Glenn Branca arthouse upbringing and goes about writing modal drones and singsongs for everyone! It's just a shame he's a little past his teen idol years or else young girls would be screaming "Lee Is Free" the whole world over. Instead, he settles for us.
22) The Big Sleep -- Nature Experiments: Anything with a name this good has to be amazing, right? Who wouldn't want to listen to nature experiments? This Brooklyn-based ensemble are said to be "post-rock/ experimental," but it sounds pretty pre-post-rock to me. But then I haven't bought any new apps for my ears in years, so I'm likely running on an older operating system.
21) Rumer -- Seasons of My Soul: Do you like soft-rock? Like the Carpenters? Well, Ronnie Rumer here -- really Sarah Joyce, but I like my reality my way -- knows exactly how to get that Burt Bacharach-approved sound. The album came out in the U.K. back in 2010, but it showed up here in 2012, though I may have been napping the first time it came around. She has a second album of covers that is out in the U.K., but not yet here. Because we're not to import any new music until we put together a decent healthcare system. Oh, joy, more domestic Maroon 5 for all! No wonder my colon hurts.
20) Sinead O'Connor -- How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?: It's just like me to pay attention to anyone who shares my surname! That new Flannery O'Connor album is awesome, too! Considering how many potential personalities Sinead possesses, it's truly exciting when the one that pays attention makes a record. Because no matter what you think of her, you must admit -- like Jackson Browne once stated about someone else entirely -- that girl could sing! And still does!
19) Isidore -- Life Somewhere Else: Steve Kilbey of the Church deserves your attention and by working with Remy Zero's Jeffrey Cain he has elevated my opinion of that band without even listening to them. Fact is, Kilbey can still write songs that ride the crest of the wave and reach for the stars while keeping his feet on the ground -- oh, how Casey Kasem would be proud! It's music like this that makes me want to wear headphones.
18) La Sera -- Sees The Light: The Vivian Girls' Kickball Katy does herself proud with this wistful pop collection that makes you drive slower than you ever imagined you drive. Yes, life in the slow lane will surely make you find your mind.
17) The Tallest Man On Earth -- There's No Leaving Now: Twenty-nine year old Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson knows his given name isn't nearly as catching as calling himself The Tallest Man On Earth. We'll overlook the fact that this is false and misleading advertising since we (by which I mean me) enjoy the songs on his latest album quite a bit. He'd been compared to Bob Dylan in the past, due to his playing an acoustic guitar and refusing to add fancy production techniques to his records. Well, this one breaks out of typecasting and shows what a man can do with a little reverb in his heart.
16) Garland Green -- I Should've Been The One: Garland Green had a hit back in the early 70s with his 1969 track "Jealous Kind Of Fella" but had fallen away from the record-makin' machinery until he showed up this year with I Should've Been The One, an album that features a re-recording of his hit that is A-OK and other tunes that stay true to old-school soul music. Fact is, with a voice as rich as Garland Green's, it doesn't matter what age has done to it. Every little bit of roughness helps him go down like Ten-High! That's a whisky!
15) Jenny Gillespie -- Belita: Throwing in Sam Amidon for a collaboration on the opening track of this 5-song EP and bringing in famous guitarist guy Marc Ribot elsewhere shows Gillespie either has friends or dreams or both. She makes gentle, folkish music that makes me want to throw away furniture. Again, a reviewer used the term "post-rock instrumentation," but again I don't hear any lasers, just folky guitars, some keyboards and a voice that sounds like that cute girl from high school all growed up!
14) Adam Cohen -- Like A Man: Sure, Adam's pandering a little. I mean, you're less than a minute into the first song and you hear a finger-picked acoustic guitar, upright bass, mild orchestration and the words "desert," "winter" and "if I could I surely would," just in case you didn't realize at first mention he's the son of Leonard Cohen, the only 70-something year old man that people can't pay too much to see perform and then have their lives forever changed! Truth told, these are nice songs played with confidence and the kind of eerie resemblance to dear old dad that makes you think of Julian Lennon and wonder why he hasn't re-found his family's historical musical narrative. Janov primal scream, anyone?
13) Corner Laughers -- Poppy Seed: While much music I prefer has a dark side that often doesn't turn light, every once in a rare moment, someone does sunshine right. Corner Laughers grab that retro-California vibe that Don Draper craves deep in his Dick Whitman soul. Older folks will think of the Beach Boys and the Free Design, while newer people will think of Camera Obscura, Belle & Sebastian and even fresher comparisons. How does anyone resist a tune called "I'd Rather Count Cormorants With You"? Grey skies, vamoose. I'm getting really into life!
12) Sun Kil Moon -- Among The Leaves: Yes, Kozelek's still got a nylon string guitar in tow, but he mixes and matches sounds and features some of the longest song titles of his entire career (hey, after twenty years, progress is progress). If you still fail to be moved to tears by his voice, I don't advise you to adopt small animals. You won't relate to them -- at all.
11) Tindersticks -- The Something Rain: It's said that The National are taking the Tindersticks sound, well, nationally. But I don't think it bothers Stuart Staples much. Why would it? The man knows what he's got here. And cult-like followings are as close to recession-proof as musicians can hope for these days. No musician needs the extra applause except maybe with live engagements. Considering this group plays less than ten shows per month, being a household name would only disrupt their sightseeing.
10) Logan Venderlic -- Logan Venderlic: I admit I'm fond of simple music, without all the bells and whistles that twirling a knob these days brings about naturally. And if it takes calling this acoustic-based songwriting "Folk Wave" to get people to listen, well then, Folk Wave it is. "Blue Pills / Red Cups" says either he really is from a small town in West Virginia or he watches Nurse Jackie. "Jerkwater Town" says he's for real and "Me, Me, Me" shows he's got heart.
9) Chrome Cranks -- Ain't No Lies In My Blood: Veteran rockers know something the kids will eventually learn. They refine sound and edit, edit, edit, until riffs are diamond hard and what you think is a mess is just an amplifier bleeding into the streets. An ex-Honeymoon Killer, an ex-Pussy Galore and a lead singer in Peter Aaron that still believes in telling strangers about rock 'n' roll strangely.
8) Ane Brun -- It All Starts With One: Scandinavia is ripping these days. Or more like we in the U.S. are slowly catching up. Brun has already released a "crapload" of albums since 2003 and she's placed well on the charts of Norway and Sweden, including an album that has certified Double Platinum, which I assume is something like 2500, not including library loans. Anyhow I'm piling on now in 2012, just a little later than Peter Gabriel who poached Brun to be a back-up singer for his New Blood tour. Ane Brun, only five albums away from winning a Grammy for Best New Artist!
7) Sharon Van Etten -- Tramp: Van Etten's rise has been most curious. Hard work accounts for most of it, but in fairness lots of musicians work hard. Late night TV, festivals, profile in Rolling Stone. Must be the music, which is engaging, dark, well-thought out. Maybe it's all the National's fault, considering Aaron Dessner produced the album. I've been an early fan, but that's usually cause for alarm. The 99 cent bin is jammed with my heroes on a last chance clearance drive.
6) Leonard Cohen -- Old Ideas: At 77, Cohen shows the competition how it's done. Well, except there isn't much competition in the 77-year-old singer-songwriter department. And Cohen still produces music more intense and better constructed than people a third his age. Try listening to the entire album and check and see if something hasn't stuck to the bottom of your shoe or the roof of your mouth. All depends how you process thought.
5) Lori Carson -- Another Year: Former Golden Palominos singer whose solo career will one day be rediscovered by enthusiasts the way the works of Judee Sill and Terry Reid and Nick Drake and Roy Harper and (your favorite cult artist forty years past here), Carson quietly goes about her work and seems to be singing to herself. If you consider that many musicians do their best work when they push the world aside, maybe you should consider eavesdropping on Lori, before she decides not to bother letting you hear her music in the first place.
4) Royal Headache -- Royal Headache: Leave it to Australia to export a punk band worthy of the Undertones. But that's what happens when you have a singer who can yank emotion out of the simplest ideas. Don't ever confuse simple with stupid. There's plenty of dumb smart complicated music out there. Just go to your local music instrument store to hear some.
3) Matt Boroff -- Filling In the Cracks: An EP that serves as an intro of sorts for the album that awaits, Cracks features Mark Lanegan on a track that's not even the highlight of this 4-song must-have. Working the soundfield first opened by Tom Waits, Nick Cave and at least a few names on this list, Boroff furthers his credentials as the go-to undergrounder for when end times are near. Everyone already knows who Waits and Cave are, for pete's sake. It's time to find new avenues to the same dark, deserted places. This map is free.
2) Can -- The Lost Tapes: Another cheat, since none of this material was recorded anywhere near 2012. But access is access and we've been given the keys this year, so it is in this year that it must be dealt with. Public Image Limited don't even have a career if not for these mad Germans. And neither do plenty of other bands who ripped them off pretty liberally, figuring we'd likely never find out, since few people paid attention the first time around.
1) Richard Hawley -- Standing At The Sky's Edge: After years of pretending to be Jim Reeves and Scott Walker and whatever debonair singer of past love you desire, Hawley springs his full force Julian Cope on us and turns the amps up until no one can think. The man who stood on the sidelines and apprenticed with Pulp shows why he deserves the biggest stage man can build. Play this mutha loud!