Before I get started here, I’m not a music reviewer. There is a reason I stick mostly to interviews. I’m not really good at explaining the WHY of why I like something. My passions come from a more gut sense of things. Below I’ll try to put into words why I liked these ten records of 2012. Hopefully I convey some idea of why these albums are great and perhaps you will check out the mixtape I’ve made!
All songs count down to Number 10 to #1! You can also find the mix over at Spotify (http://open.spotify.com/user/damian.burford/playlist/3VMXIvPK8apjtI5S19ORzY) or you can download the mix at: http://mostlyharmlesspodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Mostly-Harmless-Best-of-2012.zip
At any time these albums could be switched around, so while this is my top 10 and I spent hours deciding the order, tomorrow it could all change, but still be very relevant.
About my listening process: I have OCD of sorts in that I will listen to an album over and over and over until I get tired of it, or something else comes along to take its place. I tried to order these albums in the order in which they were most listened to, and I also factored in the “Stuck in my head factor,” which is usually what leads me to pull out an album and rock it out again.
Please read, take a listen, and let me know what you think! What did I miss? What were your favorite albums of the year?
10. Dan Padilla – Sports Fans – Dirt Cult Records
I had never heard of Dan Padilla until a random posting from Dirt Cult Records announced the band’s newest album, from members of Tiltwheel and Madison Bloodbath, was released on Bandcamp in a pay what you want fashion. I was even more intrigued when Dirt Cult founder, Chris Mason, stated he was blown away with how many pre-orders his newest release had received in such a short amount of time. A few clicks later, I was caught off guard with a symphony of Midwestern style Pop-Punk with a California edge. I don’t even think I got to the fourth track before I found myself pre-ordering the vinyl release of this record! While the album tends to lose my attention on the second half, it is a stellar album for fans of the aforementioned bands as well as Dillinger Four, Hot Water Music and Toys That Kill. Download the whole album at:http://dirtcultrecords.bandcamp.com/album/sports-fans
9. Joyce Manor – Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired – Asian Man Records
These kids are way to young to be this damned fucking talented. This album, like their previous effort, is short, sweet and to the point. They don’t fool around with verse, chorus, verse, chorus, repeat. They’re like an afternoon quickie with your lover, in and out and getting the job done. Obnoxiously catchy and undeniably unique, these tunes about growing up, heartache and break. They have just about everything you’d want from a super lo-fi, garage-y, pop-punk record. It’s fuzz and low production values only adds the the record’s charm and hooks. The cover of “Video Killed The Radio Star,” is just about perfect. This isn’t a band for everyone, but those who get it fucking love them. Add me to that list. Fun Fact: This album is only 13 minutes long. I’ve had sex longer than this album.
I’m glad I got to meet and become friends with these fine gentlemen this year. Our interview with the band was the #1 downloaded interview of the year, and for good reason: It’s great drunken fun. For fans of Superchunk, Jawbreaker, and early Against Me!
8. Sundials – When I Couldn’t Breathe – Asian Man Records
I am super thankful that Mike Park, owner of Asian Man Records, added me to his label’s promo list this year. I surely would have missed out on this hidden little gem.
This Richmond, VA based trio are quite the young gentleman, but that does not stop them from expertly exploring the pop-punk tropes of heartbreak and growing up. The music is so simple it is stupid, but the combination of Harris Mendel’s powerfully heartfelt vocals over the well crafted, and hypnotically sublime musical chorus create a musical powerhouse. I often find myself singing the songs to myself long after the needle has retracted from the record. Time will tell, but I think this album will explode onto people’s radar and become a mainstay of not only my music collection, but the masses of people out there who love the various shapes of the current 90’s lo-fi revival. Think of CHEAP GIRLS meets ALKALINE TRIO with a heavy dose of LEMONHEADS/SUPERCHUNK goodness. Had this album come out earlier in 2012 instead of the end of September, I think this album would have taken off and gotten more notice.
It’s hard to pick a favorite out of the bunch, but I would have to choose either Mosby Blues or Strange. You can order the album NOW from Asian Man Records, or download the album for FREE at IfYouMakeIt.Com.
7. Cheap Girls – Giant Orange – Rise Records
Full disclosure. These gentlemen are some of my favorite people on the planet. Of course I’m going to love their album. The first tour I ever went on with Drag The River, these guys were the support band. Their previous effort, My Roaring 20’s, was my favorite album of 2009. This album would have ranked higher on the list had it not been for so many other albums that became objects of my obsession. This album also hold the distinction of being the first and last album to be produced by Tom Gabel of Against Me before his announcing that he was a Tran-sexual woman and changing his name to Laura Jane Grace. While thats it does not factor into the overall brilliance of this album, it is still interesting to note. I can’t help but wonder if the album would have gotten more press if it had come out after LJG’s announcement.
Cheap Girls picks up where they left off with My Roaring 20’s. Intensely catchy pop-rock goodness with a flair for 90’s influence (If you couldn’t notice by the previous reviews, catchy pop is my weakness!) This album was written while singer Ian Graham was recovering from knee surgery and when reading the lyrics I can’t help but find some sort of hidden imagery about life while in recovery from such surgeries. Of course I could be wrong, but songs like “Gone All Summer,” and “Ruby” seem to deal heavily with the ups and downs of pain killers, but that’s the beauty of metaphor. The songs could be about anything! Ian won’t fucking tell me!
The band has left the basements and this record reflects that with a bigger and heavier sound. This isn’t a far departure for their previous works, and its a nice advancement. It’s just what I wanted from a Cheap Girls album. Again, like the two previously mentioned albums, this record is for fans of The Lemonheads, Superchunk and The Replacements.
6. Hot Water Music – Exister – Rise Records
Exister was my number one most anticipated album of the year. The week of its release, I listened to this album 28 times on Itunes alone. That doesn’t include listens on my phone or CD player. I couldn’t stop hitting repeat over and over again until the eventual overkill a week of so later, when my pick for number one album of the year reentered my super heavy rotation. It was a good run, and this is a great album. I will add, I don’t think any of the songs quite lived up to The Fire, The Steel, The Tread 7” that came out in 2011 to promote the reunion.
Vocalists Chris Wollard and Chuck Ragan have become master songwriters in their years as front men of their own acts during the band’s hiatus. Here they come together to bring about yet another chapter of a long and illustrious career. The album is loud and feels heavy and powerful. Bill Stevenson and company at the Blasting Room crafted an album of pure excellence, and have again displayed why they are one of the main GO TO recording studios for the Punk Rock genres.
Listening to this album compared to No Division, this band has grown into something completely different, while keeping much of that same raw energy that defined their earlier, younger years. I am a larger fan of their Epitaph albums A Flight and A Crash and Caution, this album feels more at home with the later works. Being a larger Chuck Ragan fan, I find myself connecting immensely with songs his songs, “Drag My Body” and “State Of Grace,” but overall this album is almost perfection from the masters of Post-Punk.
5. Micah Schnabel – I’m Dead, Serious.– Suburban Home Records
Yet another buddy! I’ve traveled a good chunk of this country with Micah and his band Two Cow Garage. We’ve slept in many of the same hotel rooms and held many late night conversations about life the universe and everything. Micah came to Colorado and played a few album release shows for this fantastic album in December of 2011, and it made many 2011 top ten lists, but the official street date of the album was January of 2012. The LP of the album was just released on Suburban Home Records in November, so I think it is still a fitting album to discuss in 2012!
Somber and Haunting, Micah pulls out all the stops with his latest solo effort. While his previous outing was simply Micah and a guitar, here he joins forces with his Ghost Shirt brethren to create a diary of Micah’s spiral to the deepest darkest depths of depression. While this album is dark and haunting, it hosts an upbeat macabre feeling. So while the album is essentially a suicide note, you can’t help but tapping your toes, singing along and generally loving every minute of the experience.
Again, I’m not the most poetic with words when describing an album and why I love it so, but the brutal honest of the journey that Micah goes through, grabs me to the core. I’ve been there, I’ve hit that bottom and been close to the end myself. So with those emotions in mind, this album shakes me to the core and proves to me that there is a light at the end of this deep, dark road. If Micah can go through this, and make such beautiful art, then surely so can I? Plus, who can’t identify with “Zen and The Art of Fucking Up Your Life?”
4. Tin Horn Prayer – Grapple The Rails – Paper + Plastick
Even more buddies! I can’t help it, straight out of the gate, the opening banjo reminds me of The Muppet Movie, which of course is one of the best movies of all time. So already I’m filled with joy as the opening track, Execution Line launches into the rousing epic that is “Fire In The Jailhouse.” This band has been described as a Country/Punk band, but I must digress. This is a straight forward, balls to the wall PUNK ROCK with a grim and gritty jailhouse edge They just happen to play funky instruments a long the lines of Mandolins,Banjos, and Accordions. (When listening to the first track, I can’t help but picture the band in a chain gang. Perhaps a future video?). Three vocalists and all three tackle the lead guitar as well as other various instruments give each and every song a distinct and separate voice, but the raw prowess keeps it all together and they flow together effortlessly. I can’t match what Absolutepunk.net reviewer Gregory Robson had to say about the album: “ If only all music could sound as effortless, engaging and enveloping as this.” Featuring members of Denver mainstays, Pinhead Circus, The Blackout Pact and Only Thunder, this record was also recorded at the soon to be world famous Black In Bluhm recording studios, run by Gamits front man Chris Fogal. It’s RAW, Powerful and fully imagined. Watch these Colorado boys, if they can get away from their busy lives and tour, they will take over the world. For fans of Chuck Ragan/Hot Water Music, Tom Waits, and I Can Lick Any SOB In The House.
3. Arliss Nancy – Simple Machines – Self Released/ Suburban Home Records
These fools are some of my best friends. That doesn’t mean dick when it comes to this amazing record. The Arliss Nancy boys finally find their own voice and venture out to create their own style. No longer are they simply a Two Cow Garage/Lucero-esque band, they have taken their myriad of influences and styles and transformed them into something uniquely theirs. Sure it still has that warm familiar feel of those aforementioned bands, but with that you get the thousands of miles and hours of drinking accumulated into something completely their own. Dual vocals and co-songwriting from Cory Call and Kyle “GB” Oppold give the different songs their own distinctive voices and feelings. These guys are about the same age as me, and we go through the same motions of searching for out place in the world and dealing with the love and life that go with it. I identify with them and I sing along with them. Songs like “Should Have Been There” and “Little Steve” hit the spot with their themes of love lost while song like “Front Seat” and “40’s,” are about adventures and brotherly love.
It’s a damned shame these guys have had a messy break up with Suburban Home Records who initially released this album. This is a breakout record all the way. It was slated to be re-released on another larger label, but that too fell through. I sincerely hope this album does not fall through the cracks. This should be on everyone’s radar. If you are a fan of any the aforementioned bands, Springsteen or good solid pop-punk with a twang, make sure you give these guys a listen. You won’t regret it. I can’t wait to see what these boys can come up with next!
2 Masked Intruder – “Masked Intruder” Red Scare/Fat Wreck
What can I say that I haven’t said already in the hundreds of Facebook posts I’ve made about this dumb, fun band. Pop-Punk in the vein of The Descendents, Teenage Bottlerocket and Screeching Weasel meets the sweetness and fun of 1950’s Doo-Wop.
Four masked men, in 4 different colors and four different vocal melodies wax poetically about their dream woman who just doesn’t like them, so they are going to break into her house, and hold her by knife point until she loves them. Sounds creepy, but instead you get a simply sweet, misguided attempt at affection.
I first listened to this album in Chicago in preparation for an interview with the music producer Matt Allison, who produced this in his Atlas Studios. I liked it, but at first felt it was nothing special. It was just a dumb stupid pop-punk album. After listening to Allison describe this as one of his favorite albums he’s worked on, I took a second and third listen until the album had burrowed itself into my brain. I played this for my best friends a few weeks back and they just didn’t get it, and neither did I on the first time. This is an album that grows on you and becomes almost a guilty pleasure until you realize there is nothing to be guilty about. This album RULES. Originally released on Red Scare Records, Fat Mike and the Fat Wreck gang wisely snapped up this band and will be re-releasing the album later on in 2013. I can’t hardly wait.
(Side note: Through some clever Facebook stalking, I figured out who two of the members were, but they seemed to be normal dudes. So no spoliers from me!)
1. The Menzingers – On The Impossible Past – Epitaph Records
Well shit, This wasn’t much a surprise was it? All I’ve done is ramble on and on about how much I fucking love this record. This album ingraned itself into my head. I could not escape it. I would often awake in the middle of the night with Obituaries or Mexican Guitars stuck in my head. I wrote about Casey for the Colorado Springs Independent as my favorite song of the year! Even when I interviewed Tom May from the band earlier this year, I ranted and raved to him how much I loved it. It’s also another Matt Allison produced band. Coincidence? I think not!
What was there to like about this album that hasn’t already been discussed on so many other top 10 lists? What I liked so much about this album was I did not like it at first. Not at all. The first listen, I was bored and turned off, but something drew me back to it again and again.
This album, like their previously amazing album, Chamberlain Waits, were both growers and not show-ers. What grew on me was the subdued intensity. I’ve talked about it before, but this album seems to walk that fine line between Bruce Banner and full on HULK-ing out. It’s an album about love, loss, regret, anticipation and welcoming the future. The band, like myself, are on a turning point with little ways back. You’ve got the comfortable future sitting behind you, and a future full of uncertainty a head of you. It’s warm, welcoming and comfortable when Greg Barnett or Tom May sing their hearts out, I can identify with the emotional journey that are partaking in. Not to mention its incredibly catchy. These are songs that I will carry with me the rest of my life. These guys are the future.
Favorite Moment of the year: Chicago for Riot Fest 2012.
Hands down the best adventure I have ever been on! On a whim I bought a friend’s ticket, found a $70 round trip plane ticket to Chicago. I ended up crashing on an aquaintance’s couch right outside of Chicago and navigated the city and the events mostly by myself. And oh the adventures we had. Only in Chicago for Riot Fest would you find yourself making best friends forever with strangers from Florida, or hanging out with the members of Rise Against and The Descendents, and on the same night jumping into a cab with the owner of Victory Records, Tony Brummel, and Springa, the legendary singer of S.S. Decontrol! ALL IN ONE NIGHT! WHAT?!?! Other highlights included getting completely wasted with Mikey Erg at a secret Off With Their Heads show, or the time I visited Atlas Studios, or the time I got wasted with Neil Hennessy of The Lawrence Arms and Isaac Thortz of The Arrivals at a last minute A Wilhelm Scream show. Oh and Kuma Corner Burger. Can’t forget Kuma Corner Burger. Wow. My tickets for next year are already purchased. I can’t hardly wait!
Most Anticipated album of 2013? TWO COW GARAGE
Tour I most want to see: Cheap Girls, Joyce Manor & Sundials!