I always have trouble putting together a year-end recap or best-of the year’s music list. For starters, I never write this stuff down during the year so by November and December I’m stuck trying to remember if something came out in the current year or not. I invariably go overboard without the benefit of a life raft for an album and then have to go back and find out their album came out the prior year.
This year, Popblerd made it easy with a super handy spreadsheet to put down the various albums that we fell in love with, so without any more pontification, and not with a particular ranking or order other than how it all fell out of my head and onto what you’re reading, here we go.
King Tuff: King Tuff
I found out about this little garage pop masterpiece the old-fashioned way: via a review in Rolling Stone. King Tuff is one guy from Vermont, Kyle Thomas, and thanks to a great review and mini-profile in RS it ended up in my power rotation on Spotify. The moment I read he’s influenced by T. Rex, Big Star and Cheap Trick, I had to check him out, and in that regard the album does not disappoint. There’s a great DIY/garage sound to this yet it rocks and rocks hard in places, especially tracks like “Anthem” and “Stranger.” I love this kind of album because its the type of sound and ethos I’d love to be able to do in my basement.
Van Halen: A Different Kind of Truth
Everyone knows the story: the inimitable David Lee Roth returned – again – to the most dysfunctional brothers in rock, Eddie and Alex Van Halen (yes, even more so than Ray and Dave Davies), egos were set aside and, along with Eddie’s son Wolfgang on bass, had a well-received comeback tour in 2007. A comeback tour is one thing, but could the pressure of making new music be too much for the reunion?
Five long years later and their first new album with Dave since 1984 is, well., in a word, fantastic. Yes, several of the the songs evolved from old(er) demos, but who really cares when the sum total adds up to a great album? Every song kills, and what the band was missing for years – Dave’s swagger, funk and fun, is in every song. And Eddie’s playing is as good as ever, maybe even better that ever as by his own admission this is the first album he’s ever recorded completely sober.
Musically, the band positively smokes. There’ no denying Alex, Eddie and Wolfgang are playing better than ever, and with an energy that hasn’t been heard on record since…well, maybe OU812. And don’t get your 80’s bandanas all in a bunch over Michael Anthony not being a part of the reunion. As a dad, I can’t help but wonder how freaking cool it must be to play with your kid, on-stage in front of thousands, and creating new music in the studio. And plenty of big and small bands lost their bass players – no one is boycotting the Rolling Stones because Bill Wyman quit. Bottom line: this record wouldn’t have happened without Wolfgang – and they wouldn’t have sounded as good because the kid has the goods (check out his playing on “Chinatown” for proof – shades of the Billy Sheehan/Steve Vai combo on Dave’s first solo album Eat ‘Em & Smile).
No ballads, no drama, no excuses. Just Van Halen, again.
John Mayer – Born and Raised
For a minute there, Mayer seemed in danger of having everything but his music get all the attention. Personally, the fact that this guy gets so much ass (seriously, Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Simpson and Katy Perry? Bravo.) and is so witty and opinionated is awesome; rhe’s a rock star! Unfortunately all the tabloid-worthy stuff got more focus than the music – and his music has been consistently fantastic – I’ve loved each album and have always looked forward to where Mayer would go next.
So after all the tabloid attention, interviews, etc., Mayer gets his head together, stays out of the limelight and releases his most introspective and mellow album to date, Born and Raised. Produced by Don Was, the album is more laid back and has more of an “organic” sound and feel that any of his previous albums – the at-times slick and pop-rock sounds heard on previous Mayer albums isn’t here. No doubt Was brings a more acoustic and rootsy sound with him, but Mayer’s headspace and his writing called for it. This album didn’t grab me right away like his previous albums; rather, it’s laid back vibe grew on me over time. Case in point, the first single “Shadow Days” was instantly familiar, and yet, it I didn’t love it right away. A few weeks later however, I realized I couldn’t get it out of my head. Same with the title track which sneaks up on you, both musically and lyrically. “Something Like Olivia” offers up some tasty blues licks throughout.
Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
Embarrassing disclosure: this is the first Nada Surf album I ever got. I’m at least ten years behind here, I know – I’ve so many people look at me incredulously when I tell them the band was just never on my radar. I can’t explain why; maybe I just subconsciously lumped them in with a slew of other late 90’s-era bands I never really got into. My mistake, to say the least. I’m making up for lost time, seeing them live twice this year. and their new/latest album ending up on this list.
The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy is a near-perfect power pop record. Ten songs, and not even 40 minutes long. Every song is a winner, especially “When I Was Young” which is amazing and an absolute tour de force.more on this track below), “Teenage Dreams” with its driving riffs and great hooks. “Let The Fight Do The Fighting” is a somewhat mellow, mid-tempo track which drifts along to a great chorus.
I can wax ridiculously about every song on the album, and the band’s live show. Just get the album and see them next time they come to your town.
Honorable Mentions/Additional Faves of 2012:
Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania
I don’t care if its just Billy now, I love this, and it sounds like what should have been the next evolution in the Pumpkins sound (and I loved the album prior to this one)
Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit
I love this album, another “sleeper” that I listened to a lot but didn’t really pay close attention to it until relatively recently. Filled with great hooks, a dramatic sound; love the vocals. The album was a #1 Heatseeker album this year, too (whatever that means anymore).
Kiss – Monster
I never believed in “guilty pleasures” and I’ve always been more interested in my favorite band’s current output than hearing the old stuff over and over again. To that end, the new Kiss album is damn good, thank you, filled with what you would expect: big guitars and big hooks. Its not the original guys and hasn’t been for over ten years – and that’s just fine with me as Tommy Thayer (guitars) and Eric Singer (drums) have solidified their roles and add a lot of energy and gel with Paul and Gene. I dig it.
Song of the Year: “When I Was Young” by Nada Surf
Their album that this song came from is on my best album list. But this song deserves closer scrutiny and it was in thinking of all the music that impacted me the most, that I likely listened to the most, this song came out on top. For a number of different reasons. For starters, the song structure and the hook is fantastic. The subtle, soft opening guitar that opens the song…into the verses…and the way the music builds and swells throughout the verses…to come crashing into that chorus! Really, the arrangement here is pristine.
And those lyrics. Now, as much as I like to read and write oddly enough I don’t always listen to lyrics that closely, at least at first. The lyrics in “When I Was Young” hit home for me, and pretty quickly. To my ears they harken back to the 70’s, referencing “the Professor and Mary Ann” and an innocence that childhood – at least looking back on it – should have had. Until you’re an adult and you look back, i.e., “What was that world I was dreaming of…?”
Song of the Year, #2: “Stay Frosty” by Van Halen
This is what David Lee Roth brings to the party. Naysayers might say this song is a pale attempt at creating another “Ice Cream Man” and indeed, it starts with Dave and some tasty acoustic guitar picking (by Dave, actually) and then goes into a full-out, swinging boogie. . But there’s a lot more here than “Ice Cream Man.” The lyrics take you on a bit of a tour of various religious philosophies (really!) ultimately giving you the universal advice to just “Stay Frosty.” Musically, every time I listen to this song I dig Eddie’s playing, especially his rhythm guitar in the verses. Just a hell of a lot of fun.