While I generally focus on other forms of content, music is a big part of my life, so in this post I'll spotlight my favorite albums of 2012. If you're looking for some last-minute holiday gifts, you could do a lot worse than these.
For me, 2012 was an OK, but unspectacular year for music. But there were some gems if you searched deeply enough. Here are my favorites for the year. I have somewhat eclectic tastes, so there's bound to be something everyone could like (or hate). Please share feedback and your favorites in the comments.
Of course, music is for listening, so I've created a Spotify playlist with tracks from all of these albums.
Howler: America Give Up. One of my favorites for 2012 came from surf-punk influenced Howler. This album was my gym soundtrack for quite a while earlier in the year. Howler are hard to categorize, but it's clear they grew up listening to the Ramones as well as more recent bands like the Vines AND... Favorite tracks include Back of Your Neck, the non-PC titled Beach Sluts, This Ones Different, Pythagorean Fearem and Told You Once.
Jack White: Blunderbuss. Some people can't stand anything Jack White does; I am in the opposite camp. I find him refreshing and his multiple bands keep him fresh. Blunderbuss provides big guitar licks with typical Jack White vocals. Song lyrics are somewhat unsophisticated, particularly on the pop Sixteen Saltines, but I can live with that. Favorite tracks include the offbeat Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy, Weep Themselves to Sleep, Sixteen Saltines (great riff) and his cover of the Blasters' classic I'm Shakin'.
Los Straitjackets: Jet Set. According to my Last.fm profile, Jet Set was the new album I listened to most in 2012. Los Straitjackets are a surf rock band, and before you think Dick Dale, they've brought a new level of melody and musicality to the genre. Lead guitarist Daddy O'Grande returned to the band after a successful bout with a brain tumor, and helped create their best album in over a decade. Jet Set doesn't sound like surf. It's more like the backdrop to a great 60's movie and at moments pays tribute to Burt Bacharach and Hal David (but without the vocals). Favorite tracks include Crime Scene, which should be the soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino movie, Walking Down 3rd Street which I played on the guitar nonstop for two months when this album came out, Space Mosquito, which showcases their guitar skills, and Pop Rocks and Coke.
Totsy: Red Balloon. Totsy are a burlesque/cabaret band fronted by singer Beth Curry (a Broadway performer) and songwriter/band leader Brett Boyett. Style-wise, Totsy has a bit of Squirrel Nut Zippers and Puppini Sisters in them, with a twist of Kate Bush. Totsy are the opening act for the Brian Setzer Orchestra on their current tour, and just blew me away when I saw them. My favorite cuts on the album are Fall Away, Dope on a Rope and the sultry Red Balloon. You might also want to check out their new Christmas song, Santa Likes Naughty Girls Too.
Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band: Between the Ditches. The Indiana-based Big Damn Band, consisting of guitarist and singer Reverend Peyton, his wife Breezy on the washboard, and drummer Aaron Persinger is a roots blues band that sound like they were plucked from the Mississippi Delta 75 years ago. After Peyton on Patton, an album covering songs of delta blues legend Charlie Patton, they've returned with a great new album. Favorite tracks include Big Blue Chevy '72, the slide guitar-driven Shut the Screen, the anti-mountaintop removal Don't Grind It Down and Devils Look Like Angels (with its disturbing video shown below).
Japandroids: Celebration Rock. High energy, the Japandroids are the 2012 version of punk. Strong, guitar-driven music with lots of distortion, mixed with angst-infused vocals, the album is much more together than their previous efforts. Best tracks are The House that Heaven Built and the previously released Younger Us.
Runners Up: these are both good albums, but neither quite holds up to the "best of 2012" for me:
The Men: Open Your Heart. Fans of the Arctic Monkeys, Nine Black Alps, The Subways and Maximo Park should like the Men's Open Your Heart. My favorite tracks include the title track, Ex-Dreams and Cube.
Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls. I wanted to love this album; I really did, but in the end I simply like it. Brittany Howard is one of the best blues rock singers to come along in ages and I have high hopes for the band going forward. Yet while I enjoy listening to them, I rarely find myself seeking them out. Favorite cuts include Hang Loose, ballad You Ain't Alone, Hold On and rocking bonus track Heavy Chevy.
Often, the best new music is actually stuff from the back catalog, so I’d also like to spotlight a few albums that I’ve long loved, but had been buried in the back of my playlists until 2012.
The Undertones: Best of the Undertones. OK, it’s a cop-out picking a greatest hits album, but if you don’t know the band, then this is the one I’d suggest you buy. The Undertones were a punk band from Northern Ireland during the late 70s and early 80s. Led by vocalist Feargal Sharkey and brothers John and Damian O’Neill on guitars, the Undertones wrote some of the best punk-pop tunes of the period. The Undertones have some of the best-ever guitar hooks wrapped around simple, yet catchy adolescent love songs. The whole album is great, but my favorite cuts are You’ve Got My Number (one of my favorite guitar riffs), Get Over You and, of course, Teenage Kicks.
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros: Rock Art & the X-Ray Style. Joe Strummer was the heart of the Clash and gave them their world beat and world view. When he returned to music, after a long hiatus, he created a band that represented that global view. The Mescaleros are one of those bands that I turn to when I don’t know what I’m in the mood to listen to. And they never disappoint. Best cuts are Tony Adams, Techno D-Day, The Road to Rock-n-Roll and Yalla Yalla. While I spotlight Rock Art here, you’d do just as well with Streetcore or Global a Go-Go. In fact, I’d suggest just buying the Hellcat Years set which includes all three, plus some live tracks with Mick Jones. It’s hard to believe that it will be a 10 years this week since Joe Strummer passed away. He’s missed but his music resonates on.
Here's the link to the Spotify playlist with tracks from all these albums.