As 2012 came to a close, it’s time for us to look back and reflect on what stood out to us musically. There was a bunch that we all agreed on and a few that prompted us to check out each other’s referrals. We’ve each made our lists of our top favorites of the past year. Going the extra mile, JJ gave us his top 25 albums of 2012!
25. The Classics of Love – Self Titled
“This was a tricky pick. At various points, a few other albums had occupied the 25th spot until I remembered this album from earlier in the year. An 11th hour listen reminded me how much I liked it. You see, it’s Jesse Michaels from Operation Ivy and a few other fellows. The music sounds like a faster, heavier Op Ivy that spent a good deal of time listening to the Suicide Machines. Right there, that sold me. Plus, how many other singers in their forties can muster this kind of energy?! If you like this kind of music, don’t miss out. 13 tracks in 23 minutes isn’t a huge commitment.”
24. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
“Once again, growth is the name of the game. This band was always good at what they did, but it was always too close to Bruce Springsteen and other Jersey-boy hero worship to truly be extra special. This is the album where TGA really begin to carve an identity for themselves. It hasn’t fully escaped the sounds of their influences but it is a very strong step toward letting Brian Fallon show his songwriting talents.”
23. Cancer Bats – Dead Set On Living
“More Canadians! Our northern neighbor’s answer to Every Time I Die actually outdid their ‘competition’ this year. The first 3 CB albums all had phenomenal songs and elements but this album seems to pull it all together the best. It’s not a drastic step forward, but a refinement, which is fine.”
“A great band whose last 2 albums had gotten a little too slick. Don’t get me wrong, they each had maybe 2 phenomenal songs, but there was something missing. Perhaps it was a youthful intensity. Well this album has everything that they do well all in one bundle. It also has a LOT of synths which actually isn’t a bad thing in this case. This is another one of those bounceback albums.”
21. Make Do and Mend – Everything You Ever Loved
“Do you enjoy gruff vocals with a little bit of a twang? I do…sometimes. This album has a ton of great songs and demonstrates real growth from the band. Frontman James Carroll is a really nice guy, so let’s put ’em up here.”
20. Death By Stereo – Black Sheep of the American Dream
“The surprise factor might be at play here. I had known and liked a few songs from these guys but always thought they were WAY too inconsistent. Singer Efrem Shulz always seemed to oversing which occasionally worked but often really derailed things. Things seemed to be reigned in here vocally but the songs are short, punchy, direct and the guitars have never been tighter. There are some sick solos and harmonies here. Another 28 minute album which means there is no room for weak songs.”
19. And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – Lost Songs
“This was a band that I could just never get into. Their songs meandered and while they sometimes had moments of good stuff, they were buried in a mess of overblown noise. It seems that with the prior album ‘Tao of the Dead,’ the band stripped down to a four-piece. This is the album where they trim away all of that fat and just give us a focused collection of music. Who knew they were capable of this? Perhaps it would even be higher on the list if it had come out earlier in the year and I was able to really devote more time to it. Oh well, if a few cursory listens were able to affect me this much, imagine how good the album really is…”
18.Baroness – Yellow and Green
“Another shocker. I loved old ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ Baroness. Sure, they were dangerously close to being Mastodon, but oh well. This tones things WAY down and has John Baizley utilizing gentler vocals reportedly because of damage from touring on the intense songs from the first two albums and needing to write quiet songs so as not to wake his sleeping newborn child in the next room. This drastic shift in tone is usually the point where I check out but it really works here, revealing a different side to the band. The change gives them limitless room to continue growing. As with all double albums, it could have used some trimming, but the quality parts are undeniable. Way to set yourselves apart, gentlemen.”
17. Reel Big Fish – Candy Coated Fury
“To me, this is by far the best thing RBF has made since ‘Cheer Up’ and that was a long, long time ago. In between, they were churning out turds with a few decent additions to the live show. How did this happen? They even lost another integral member of the band, Scott Klopfenstein prior to this album. Whatever sorcery these guys conjured up, it worked and results in a rather consistent collection of ska songs. It’s not everyday that you can say that.”
16. Anti Flag – The General Strike
“The band produced this themselves and it is by far their shortest full-length at about 28 minutes. Despite all of that, this is a grower and while it might not initially seem like it has a lot of memorable songs, that is far from true. The band has also never been faster and angrier. Plenty of these tracks stand among their finest. See? That whole Occupy movement produced something good!”
15. Good Old War – Come Back As Rain
“I usually have to be in the right mood or a big fan of a musician to dig acoustic music. These Philly boys put in their time as Anthony Green’s backing band, put out a very good solo debut, released a completely forgettable sophomore album and this, their mind-blowing third album. Talk about a comeback. If you like harmonized vocals as much as I do, you’ll be a happy camper. This is their most consistent collection and if you are going to check out Good Old War for the first time, I would recommend this album.”
14. Best Coast – The Only Place
“Their debut ‘Crazy For You’ had some charm but it was very fuzzy, and willfully lo-fi. This glosses things up and reveals that Bethany Cosentino and company can write a whole album of amazing songs. She also now sings about more substantial subject matter aside from her cat, getting high, not having a boyfriend and California. These are some sunny songs that make me want to buy a plane ticket out to the west coast.”
13. Propagandhi – Failed States
“While this doesn’t even comes close to ‘Supporting Caste,’ ‘Failed States’ overcomes a slightly slow start to build momentum and demonstrate some growth in the long-running band. They’re old, but still angry and still Canadian. They have influenced a lot of music out there and have proven here that they can still hang with nearly any band out there in terms of intensity.”
12. Minus The Bear – Infinity Overhead
“I really like everything this band does. ‘Menos El Oso’ will always be my favorite album of theirs but this combines a lot of that with the electronic experimentation of their newer stuff and a little prog that was ‘Planet of Ice.’ It runs through a little of everything that they do well. Oh and Dave Knudson dusts off his wicked guitar solos. Hallelujah.”
11. Circa Survive – Violent Waves
“This had to grow on me a little bit. I love all of their stuff but this album is a little more ambient and less-focused at times. After seeing some of the songs live and really sticking with it, this has revealed itself to be a very, very good album. I’ll always be partial to ‘On Letting Go’ but this is a fine direction to go. It’s also the first release that they put out themselves…so if you like them, support them!”
“These Canucks have flirted with hardcore before but they really dive in this time. At under 20 minutes, it’s a very digestible little collection of tunes that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Some of the covers are absolutely fantastic, far better than the original versions. This was one chance that really paid off.”
9. Further Seems Forever – Penny Black
“Yep. Another reunion album. This one came out of nowhere for me because I only heard one of the non-Chris Carrabba FSF albums and I don’t like Dashboard Confessional. Why would I like this album? I still can’t really explain it, but something about it really works for me. Sure, it’s not perfect, but I can’t seem to get enough of it.”
8. Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
“Another ’90s relic that has hung on. Here is another wonderful album from them (their 2000’s output has been criminally underrated). Considering that this came out in the first quarter of 2012 and has managed to stay this high on the list is a testament to how great the album is.”
“Out of nowhere, Bob has recaptured his Sugar magic. Featuring a simple setup: electric guitar, bass, and drums, the great songwriter gets back to what he does best, writing great rock songs. Sometimes, it’s alright to pretend that it’s still the ’90s.”
6. The Screaming Females – Ugly
“Working with Steve Albini has given ‘The Screamales’ a slightly beefier sound which suits them just fine. Also, the band is getting stronger and more consistent in the songwriting department. Since this is also easily their longest album, that only means more great songs. I always compare this band to Dinosaur Jr. and considering I like this album much more than the new Dino offering, it is a huge score for them, whether they realize it or not.”
5. The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet
“The band’s most stripped-down album in terms of personnel has so much going on in it, you might be surprised. This album is more synth-heavy and weird but it’s a real grower even if you don’t love it at first. Cedric’s vocals just keep getting better, stranger and more beautiful.”
4. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
“While it eschews the collaborations that made up ‘Axe To Fall,’ the latest from these guys is still one of the most varied albums of this band’s career. There are brutal songs, beautiful songs and songs that defy definition.”
“How do you follow up ‘Diamond Eyes’? By recapturing the magic and making an album that, while perhaps not exceeding that one, equaling it. Not an easy task. This is a little of everything that you would want from the band which is alright by me. There is a reason why The Deftones are the only band that was lumped into the nu-metal pack who are still around and relevant. They were always the best of the bunch.”
“A band that has been around this long has no right to make an album this energetic, upbeat and technical. They are just supposed to coast along, writing another album with a few good tracks to add to the performances at the county fair and loads of filler. That’s not what Rush did, though. They made their best album since ‘Moving Pictures’ and a concept album, to boot. The band has never been heavier. If you have ever liked anything by them, check this out.”
“The long-awaited new album from my favorite band. HWM has never been recorded as gorgeously (thanks Bill Stevenson!) as it has been here and the songs are just incredible. The performances, especially Chuck Ragan’s vocals, are so passionate, it’s chilling. I liked this right off the bat but it just kept growing on me which makes it that much more gratifying. I will fight anyone who didn’t like this album. Welcome back Hot Water Music. Please don’t break up ever again.”
– While there were some great long albums this year and I always like the idea of getting more bang (music) for my buck, for me, this was the year of the short album. Rather than having to sit through a 75 minute album with 20 minutes of good music, I am much happier to have a tight 30 minute album with 30 minutes of consistently enjoyable tunes that all deserve to have been recorded.
– I learned that, as a general rule, I don’t like post-rock. Let’s leave it at that.
– We lost a few great bands this year but many (not all) reunion albums from this year proved that it is possible to pick up right where you left off. Well, that or you can get old and just embarrass yourself. Whatever you prefer.
It’s important to keep in mind that these are my personal ‘favorite’ albums of 2012, not a list that claims to contain the ‘best’ of anything. The term is far too subjective and to say that you know the best albums of the year would require you to listen to absolutely everything that came out. Impossible. These albums were sought out or crossed my path naturally and they tend to be (many of) the styles of music I generally like. Maybe I would love some of the albums that appeared on other lists but I just didn’t get around to seeking them out or else they didn’t resonate with me. Perhaps I’ll hear them next year and will be kicking myself for not changing my top 25. Whatever. That is why my list is so long. I wanted to represent as much as I could. I liked so many more albums, even beyond the ‘honorable mentions’ that I was going to list and mention in some way, but there has to be a cutoff point, people.
Let’s hope that 2013 has some worthwhile music, though, even if it doesn’t, that means a shorter list next year! I think we can all get behind that.
Decent Exposure Radio
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When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!