Monday, December 31, 2012

The List 2012

2012 was a particularly rich year that appeared at first to be unusually front-end-loaded, with a flurry of releases in the first half of the year – before a huge data-dump in September-October evened things out.  More so than in any years past, women owned the year – both as individual singer-songwriters, and as leaders of collaborative efforts.  Reunions were common for bands begun anywhere from 1950 to 2000, though original new work from a reunited band was a hit or miss proposition. 
   Improvisational/experimental music was a little slow in 2012, though many musicians, from Bill Orcutt to Bridget Hayden, stepped up to help out guitarist and composer Tom Carter, who was seriously ill with pneumonia for much of the summer.
     Our Specials section, as always, does not list reissues that do not add new content, though we are making exceptions for some very limited releases that were given special vinyl releases – works from The Dead C, William Basinski, White Hills, and Natural Snow Buildings.
     Please remember that close to a thousand mainstream and indie albums are released annually (more than 5000 counting private-issue), and this 150 or so represent the ones worth hearing.  Sure, there are quality gradients between the top ten and bottom 20, but anything that makes this list is worth your perusal.
     And for those of you who still read, whether you tablet it all or actually purchase those things called printed books – once you have finished Pete Townshend’s embarrassing Who I Am and Neil Young’s enlightening Waging Heavy Peace, be sure to leave room for David Byrne’s How Music Works, an exceptional and essential series of essays.  Byrne has alienated ex-bandmates and many other people with his tactlessness and hubris, but this book is written with folksy humility and optimistic exuberance.  Byrne believes that the purists who complain of compression, sampling, commercialization, the end of traditional instruments, all have important and legitimate points about authenticity, but he also believes that creators of the all-sampled, all-electronic music compositions of the 21st century weave their own new authenticity from inauthenticity.  Read this book.
     Why such a busy year if the “album” supposedly has lost its utility in a world dominated by downloads?  In his new book, Byrne said he talked to several young artists that said, “We’re going to hurry this project into production, because it might be the last hurrah.  There might not be any more albums after this.”  If that’s true, this might be the last List, though I have a feeling there will be more whimpering and fading away than big bangs in music.
     Consequently, we’re waiting for works that should see the light of day in 2013 – Wrens, Psycho Sisters, Yo La Tengo.  There were so many deaths in music, literature, film in 2012 that we won’t acknowledge those gone in individual fashion.  If you made it through the year, hats off to you.

Regular Studio Albums, 2011

  1. David Byrne and St. Vincent,  Love This Giant – It puzzles me that some reviewers find this album flat, when it seems to be among the most exciting work either artist has given us.  Byrne is perfectly capable of boring albums – his collaboration with Fatboy Slim on a disco opera about Imelda Marcos was pretty forgettable.  But his work here is vibrant.  Still, we should admit that Annie Clark/St. Vincent carries this album, and her compositions just sparkle.  Maybe the critics were confused by the relative absence of guitars in favor of horn sections.  In any event, this album was a clear stand-out for me.
  2. Patti Smith, Banga  --  The great wolf-mother gets accused of being maudlin at times, but melodrama used appropriately can serve Patti well.  Here, she reaches to influences from across her career to give us easily the best Patti album of the last ten years, maybe the best since Easter.  Every cut is a miracle. Bonus Edition Handicap: The hardcover book is a must, not only because of the special ‘Just Kids’ song to go along with her award-winning memoir, but because the Banga book gives us special insights into Patti’s recent muses and musings.
  3. Flobots, Circle in the Square – The cold, cruel world may have forgotten the political hip-hop purveyors of ‘Handlebars,’ but Flobots continue to expand and grow.  They remain politically relevant while rejecting rhetoric and conspiracy-theory, they try new musical styles to avoid repeating themselves, and violinist Mackenzie Galt is given more and more chances to show off her talents, particularly in the beautiful ‘The Rose and the Thistle’ – which makes the music more than a call and response between Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit.  Whether globally famous or pushed back into the underground, Flobots always remain critical listening.
  4. Mumford & Sons, BabelEvery now and then, popular tastes coincide with real talent, and this is one of them.  Perhaps you simply don’t like energetic folk-rock traditionalist acoustic, but if you avoid Mumford & Sons merely because of the millions that love them, it’s your loss.  In the acoustic/trad field, musicians usually either are first-rate songwriters and arrangers, or else they can jam like hell.  Watch a Mumford concert for 15 minutes, and you’ll realize they’re on top of the game in both categories.  Marcus Mumford writes great songs, and the band members play their hearts out.  It’s that simple.  Bonus Edition Handicap: Be sure to get the expanded edition, if only for the exceptional cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer.’
  5. Guided by Voices, Let’s Go Eat the Factory – Robert Pollard has pulled the classic GbV lineup back together, and has taken his normally prolific output to insane proportions, giving us three studio GbV albums and two solo albums in 2012.  I picked this as my favorite because it was first, and a nice mix.  (Note on output: GbV fans have chided reviewers at Pitchfork and elsewhere for suggesting that Bob needs an editor, and I for one love to see a huge and unfiltered setlist.  But the critics have a point, in that GbV releases tend to be more predictable these days.  In the 1990s, the prolific output came in a jumble of EPs, live bootlegs, and studio albums.  Now we get an album and three singles every four months, sort of a GbV assembly line.  Maybe what critics long for is some unpredictability.)
  6. Lana Del Rey, Born to Die – There are people that will hate me for giving Lana such props, but close friends and family agree with me, so screw the haters.  If you treat the poor-little-rich-girl image seriously (and she gives us ample reason to do so), you can reject Lana stylings, but I consider her the ultimate Dadaist musical version of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Not only the hits like ‘Video Games’ and ‘Blue Jeans,’ but even the lesser played numbers like ‘Off to the Races’ and ‘Summertime Sadness’ display constant genius.  Bonus Edition Handicap: The problem here is knowing which bonus edition to get.  One version released in November combines the album with the Paradise EP (reviewed on the list under EPs), but there are also bonus editions with various combinations of Lizzy Grant songs.  I’d recommend buying Paradise separately, and finding a bonus version of Born to Die that has earlier Lizzie hits such as ‘Hey Lolita Hey’ and ‘Kinda Outta Luck.’
  7. Yokokimthurston, s/t – I honestly did not know what to expect when Yoko Ono collaborated with former Sonic Youth couple Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore.  What I didn’t expect was to hear a 79-year-old experimental artist display such energy and joy on the one hand, while remaining decidedly on the edge on the other hand.  Oh sure, Thurston probably was the main influence in keeping the album weird, but the strange song and spoken-word experiments on this album prove that Yoko remains vital in the 21st century.  I have a feeling she will be making her strange music and sonic experiments well into her 80s, but even if this served as a last testament, it would be an honorable one – even if few people buy it because of its decided strangeness.  (And Yoko is the sole female contingent of the “five great geezers in their 70s” category.)
  8. Clinic, Free Reign – There are plenty of odd 80s dance groups out there like Hot Chip and Cut/Copy, and plenty of oddball experimental quasi-dance groups like Animal Collective and Black Dice, but only Clinic gives us a mix that sounds like Pere Ubu went to an after-midnight club for some throbbing beatbox sessions.  This is Clinic’s best work since Walking With Thee, and exciting beginning to end.
  9. Scott Walker, Bish Bosch – This is the second of five geezer listings, for ladies and gentlemen of distinction who released kick-ass albums in their 70s (Scott actually turns 70 on January 9, 2013).  It’s astonishing to watch his transition from Walker Brothers ‘60s pop singer to curator of the truly bizarre, and this album reaches the most of any of his stranger works, sounding something like Antony & the Johnsons meets Red Krayola – only much odder.  Just when you think Scott might dive into avant-garde pretentiousness a la Carla Bley’s Escalator Over the Hill, he’ll deliver a straight-faced line like “I want to forget you just the way you are – I really hope your face clears up.”  Damn, Mr. Walker, damn.
  10.   Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man – Not sure what it is about Natasha Khan’s music that makes it so much more haunting and unforgettable than even the great women songwriters like Cat Power and Anais Mitchell, but Khan’s newest one just hits emotional and intellectual home runs all over the place.  Look for recorded Bat for Lashes appearances on all the late-night TV shows, you’ll become a believer.
  11.   The Swans, The Seer – It’s been an incredibly busy year for Michael Gira and gang, with a two-disc live album and two-disc studio work released within weeks of each other.  This studio album is particularly impressive, with guest appearances from Alan and Mimi from Low, Karen O. from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and even Gira’s former Swans partner, Jarboe.  As with all Swans material, the lyrics and music are all grandiose and larger than life.  Bonus Edition Handicap: Be sure to get the three-disc version with the hour-long DVD chronicling The Swans’ recent worldwide tour – shots of Gira as precise bandleader are worth it.  But wouldn’t it have made more sense to offer this DVD as a companion to the live album?  Maybe it was an issue of timing.
  12.   Fanfarlo, Rooms Filled With Light – Fanfarlo always had an exacting presence similar to very early Talking Heads, but the songs on this one have a tension and musical dazzle to them that comes from better use of violin and electronics.  Exceptional work.
  13.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill – The single-disc release of traditional folk songs earlier in the year threw everyone for a loop, but we knew from the leaked performances on YouTube that more was to come.  Here is a two-disc set that smokes with the classic Crazy Horse style, and some pretty wistful lyrics by old man Neil as well.
  14.   Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, The Heist – Every now and then, the indie underground wants to hype a hip-hop act from somewhere as representing the future of the genre – last year it was The Wknd (whose three informal releases reviewed last year were officially released as Trilogy in 2012).  But then, someone with street cred like Ben Haggerty/Macklemore finally releases his first full-length with little hype, and it shoots straight to the top.  Why?  Because it delivers everything that lesser artists like The Wknd promise – wisdom, political consciousness, unusual arrangements, and a refreshing lack of “in da club” type of songs.  It took Macklemore a while to move from EPs to a full album, but it was worth the wait.  Bonus Edition Handicap: The deluxe edition with 18 songs is definitely the one you want.
  15.  Guided by Voices, The Bears for Lunch – My second favorite of the three GbV releases this year, worth special note for having the greatest Tobin Sprout content of perhaps any GbV release, ever.
  16.  Anais Mitchell, Young Man in America – The always innovative, always surprising Anais does a radical shift from a retelling of Orpheus, to make a concept album for her daddy.  Brilliant work, she always comes up with something unique and surprising.
  17.   Liars, WIXIW  – Liars continue their transition, begun in Sisterworld, from harshness to mystery, opting for a slightly more minimalist approach in this odd world of blurred soundscapes.  Beautiful in its own Liars-specific way.
  18.   Mark Lanegan Band, Blues Funeral – New bands are trying to emulate various aspects of ‘70s sounds – arena rock, yacht rock, breezy Southern California rock – but few try to duplicate the perfection of a good early-‘70s well-written blues-hard-rock masterpiece.  Lanegan, late of Screaming Trees and his duo albums with Isabelle Campbell, has done just that.  This is a well-written album where every song has merit and weight.
  19.   Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball – It’s hard to imagine that Springsteen could ever return to the top of the E Street game, particularly when the late Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake is trying to fill the shoes of the big man.  But this album is beautifully arranged, lyrically and musically, and demonstrates Springsteen’s continued efforts to be a voice for the working class.  And his stumping for Obama shows that he may be wedded to traditional electoral politics, but at least he’s willing to walk the talk.  A fine effort.  Bonus Edition Handicap: Aw, c’mon, go for the booklet edition with two extra songs.  Bruce loves completeists.
  20.   Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Mature Themes – Critics have fallen in love with the formerly obscure Ariel Pink for any of a variety of reasons, but what is often left unsaid is how gol-durned fun this band is.  Tricks of found sounds, psychedelia, and rock-out goofiness make this one worth many repeat listens.
  21.   Starving Weirdos,  Land Lines – SWs’ 2010 album, Into An Energy, seemed like the ultimate way to introduce mainstream friends to the magical improvisation of the band, seeing as how it almost sounded normal.  Land Lines, quietly snuck out at the beginning of 2012, continues in this tradition by keeping SWs’ penchant for intense, odd drone sounds, but tying it to melodic riffs that come close to ECM-style modern jazz at times.  Beautiful work.
  22.   The Walkmen,  Heaven – The Walkmen have an intriguing driven acoustic sound that sometimes clicks with me and sometimes doesn’t.  Many people loved their 2010 album, Lisbon, but it didn’t grab me.  Heaven, on the other hand, won me over with virtually every cut.  It’s good that an album like this is bringing the band to something approaching fame.
  23.   Sharon Van Etten, Tramp --  It all clicks in the third album, where Sharon brings more electronic feedback to her whispered, understated folkie stylings.  My favorite cut, ‘Serpents,’ exemplifies the album’s sad tension and overwhelming beauty.  Bonus Edition Handicap: Some people might count Demos as a separate album, as it was offered both separately and as a second disc to Tramp, but since it’s virtually identical to the standard studio album, I’ll say it’s just a fine add-on to observe how the album was created.
  24.   Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas – This is the third of the five geezer albums I mentioned, and Leonard bears the distinction of oldest male, just shy of 79 years old.  Some folks were ranking this one super-high, because they just discovered that Cohen still puts on a dynamite live show, and is still writing very relevant work.  I would agree that this is his most intriguing work in 15 or 20 years, full of wry observations you wouldn’t find in Cohen at 30 or even 50.  But his deadpan voice leads to a certain sameness of arrangement that kept this one out of the Top Ten, but still very much a necessary work.
  25.   Smoke Fairies, Blood Speaks – It’s a crime that Smoke Fairies’ second studio album (third, by some counts) has not gotten a proper U.S. release.  The music of Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies hasn’t gotten harder in a volume sense, just more intensely driven and bluesier.  They are one of England’s finest global exports this decade.  Catch them when you can.
  26.   Guided by Voices, Class Clown Spots a UFO – Not sure why this ranked the lowest of the three GbV albums of the year, since it has the wonderful title cut and many other keepers.  Sometimes logical explanations ring hollow.  Good work, though.
  27.   Missy Higgins, The Ol’ Razzle-Dazzle – Critics might complain that Higgins is on a very calculated path to add more pop elements to her songwriter work – disco backing to “Temporary Love,’ a bit of overproduction in ‘Cooling of the Embers,’ but really, so what?  One of Australia’s best solo performers knows how to weave a great tune with interesting lyrics, and if paying attention to riffs makes more people listen, I guess you’d call that a good thing.
  28.   Ben Gibbard, Former Lives – As many reviewers have pointed out, the biggest surprise in this album is that it isn’t a mopey confessional surrounding his divorce from Zooey Deschanel.  Instead, the Death Cab for Cutie lead singer gives us an album akin to a rather upbeat Death Cab album.  Plus, Aimee Mann contributes some lead vocals.  What more could you want?
  29.   Sun Kil Moon, Among the Leaves – This is one of Mark Kozelek’s most carefully crafted albums ever, yet critics were lukewarm.  Maybe that’s because Mark writes too much inside baseball – songs about touring in foreign cities and loneliness.  As Sun Kil Moon becomes less a true band project and more an MK project, it’s hard to tell a SKM album from Mark’s solo albums.  Still, this one has breadth and depth, no killer songs like ‘Carry Me Ohio,’ but plenty of keepers like ‘UK Blues.’  Mark has some solo work due in February, so we can make a better comparison in a couple months.  Bonus Edition Handicap: The two-disc version mostly features outtakes on its second disc, but it’s cool.
  30.   Deep Sea Diver, History Speaks – Jessica Dobson’s vocals, lyrics, and stylings with her own band totally overshadow her work as guitarist with Beck and The Shins.  The promise of her earlier EP is more than fulfilled in this album.
  31.   Jack White, Blunderbuss – Given Jack’s prolific work with his Third Man Studio, everyone figured his first true solo album would shoot right to the top of critics’ lists.  It is a fine effort and competently done, but still seems to lack some of the fire of the best White Stripes or Dead Weather albums.  Still, it’s pretty funny to see that his web site features quotes that say things like I just said – some may consider Jack arrogant, but he seems pretty self-effacing.  The solo album is fun, make no mistake.
  32.  Yeasayer, Fragrant World – The two DJ’s from ‘Sound Opinions’ said “If Yeasayer fans say the new one is their least favorite album, well, they’re simply wrong.”  I’m inclined to agree.  The new one is a subtle, mystery-soaked, throbbing piece, where the pop riffs are tuned down compared to the first two albums, buried in odd percussion.  But these tunes will drill their way into the darker recesses of your brain, particularly that opener, ‘Fingers Never Bleed.’  You have been warned.
  33.  Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do – Many people will place Fiona at the top merely because she is back, and admittedly, I have her listed a lot higher than many erstwhile favorite women who didn’t make the mark this year, like Regina Spektor.  But I couldn’t put her in the Top Ten because the album just wasn’t as striking as Extraordinary Machine.  She expands her art by pushing herself, but it can make her tired as well, and she seems a little exhausted right now.  Bonus Edition Handicap: You definitely want the oversized school-notebook edition, not so much for the DVD as for all the cool art objects within.
  34.  Hot Chip, In Our Heads – Plenty of bands like Cut/Copy try to recap the decent part of those ‘80s dance sounds, but only Hot Chip does it in a consistently interesting way with songs that have memorable riffs and last longer than their time in your iPod.  Give Hot Chip points for reliability.
  35.  Best Coast, The Only Place --  Bethany and Bob are in the position analogous to Dum Dum Girls and Tennis, where they have to prove they can produce more than one-dimensional surf music.  And like the two bands mentioned above, they have stepped it up.  This is a great collection of pop tunes, worth multiple listens.
  36.   Corin Tucker Band, Kill My Blues – Corin’s first effort as a solo artist was pretty flat, but she’s finally whipped the band into shape, and this sounds like some of her best work with Sleater Kinney.  Vibrant and alive and full of good licks.
  37.   Martha Wainwright, Come Here to Mama – Martha is at her best when she adds those weird bits of orthogonal lyrics and strange musical treatments that gives her work a Kate Bush edge.  She has taken that approach for this whole album, and each song is a gem as a result.
  38.   Taylor Swift, Red – Yes, she often still acts like she’s in high school, and yes, she relies on predictable lyrical circumstances for a 23-year-old, but damn does this woman manage to kick out finely-crafted pop  masterpieces time after time.  Most of the nods to country are gone in this album that owes more to a U2 or electronica sort of sound, but pop has not destroyed Taylor Swift.  She gives us 16 songs, over an hour of material, with scarcely a weak cut among them, and throws in an odd banjo or acapella vocal to show that sooner or later, when she grows up a little more, she may even do an acoustic jam with a bunch of underground freak-folk artists.  I expect anything out of Taylor Swift.
  39.   Zaimph, Imagine Yourself Here – Marcia Bassett has dropped most of the aliases she operates under – GHQ, Hototogisu, Double Leopards – and has released three recordings in 2012 as Zaimph, as well as a duo album with Samara Lubelsky.  Two other Zaimph releases will be listed in the Specials section, but this one is perhaps the most accessible for a woman redefining drone realms of experimental music.
  40.   Shearwater, Animal Joy – The band made a conscious effort to be less majestic and more earthy for its latest work, which is successful in its minimalism, but maybe not as stunning as the last two albums.  Definitely fun, however.  Bonus Edition Handicap: Extended versions of the last two Shearwater albums were exceptional, but the demo cuts offered as bonuses here are not that critical to hear.
  41.  Soundgarden, King Animal – Surprise!  Soundgarden’s live reunion album of 2011 was a pretty muddy, forgettable affair, but this album has intriguing songs and great production, maybe the band’s best effort since Superunknown.  I wasn’t expecting to like this at all, so that made the effort twice as enjoyable.  Bonus Edition Handicap: The Soundgarden fan doesn’t want the standard or the deluxe edition, but the BestBuy super-deluxe, including six extra demo and session cuts, which in this case are quite worth the time in hunting this one down.
  42. The Lumineers, s/t – Another Denver band goes gold worldwide!  I can’t say their roots-style music is as impressive as, say, Mumford & Sons, but compared to other Colorado musicians, their work has more potential than DeVotchKa’s.
  43.  The xx, Coexist – In the great debate over whether xx is brilliant or tedious, I come down in the middle.  I have to admire Jamie’s arrangement and compositional work, and the live set with BBC Philharmonic was pretty impressive.  Maybe the second album doesn’t break much new ground from the first, but it still casts a lot of magical spells.
  44.   …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Lost Songs – Trail of Dead had been moving into some pretty overblown and obscure progressive-rock realms of late, but the new one is sort of a return to fundamental riffs and melodies.  Nevertheless, the subject matter remains tightly woven into fantasy themes and odd political and steam-punk references, fascinating in its own way.  Bonus Edition Handicap:  For the last two albums, Trail of Dead has offered two-disc versions that have one version of the album with no track separation between songs.  I frankly fail to get the point of that.  Nevertheless, the expanded version of this album has a complete novel included in book format, along with four extra songs that are quite good.  Thumbs up.
  45. Japandroids, Celebration Rock – It’s easy to like these guys a lot, combining a Black Keys-like duo fervor with singalong punk style recalling The Jam.  Still, nothing in the writing or the riffs made me want to place it instantly in my Top Ten – though it certainly would be on heavy party rotation.
  46.   Bob Dylan, Tempest – The fourth of the five Geezers of Distinction listings really is quite an achievement for Dylan, lowered only by the virtually nonexistent croak voice he has these days.  This may be his best work since born-again Christian days, filled with long storytelling odes that bring to mind more the casual tale of Hurricane years than the surrealism of Blonde on Blonde.   It helps immensely that Dylan is retaining the traditionalist band led by David Hidalgo, but applying the band to more interesting material than Modern Times days.
  47.  Mt. Eerie, Clear Moon
  48.  Mt. Eerie, Ocean Roar – Longtime fans of Phil Elverum’s projects, Microphones and Mt. Eerie, might figure the man goes out of his way to be strange.  But the two new albums are surprising in their directness and beauty, alternating between beautiful folk-rockie vocals pieces and lush instrumentals.  Quite a a straightahead beautiful project for Phil.
  49.    Tom Carter, Dora Bleu, Sam Shalabi, Circle of Crosses  – Of any of Tom Carter’s studio or specialized work this year, his work with the Canadian surrealist Dora Bleu is most interesting.  After hearing her do a solo show on Quebec Internet radio, I’m ready for more Dora, and more Dora/Tom collaborations.
  50.   Sir Richard Bishop and W. David Oliphant, Beyond All Defects – This delicate, ethereal album takes two former Sun City Girls members the closest to Zen raga of any of their work, exploring rich Eastern instrumental veins with spiritual backing.  Bonus Edition Handicap – Early copies of this came in a canvas bag with beautiful art prints.  Very cool.
  51.   Cat Power, Sun – Chan’s latest work probably deserves to be higher, it doesn’t have that soulful looseness of The Greatest, but probably displays more of her newer self-assured artist demeanor than we’ve seen in a while.  Utterly enjoyable, beginning to end.
  52.   Deerhoof, Breakup Songs – This is much crisper and more cohesive than last year’s Deerhoof vs. Evil.  All Deerhoof albums are careening craziness, but this one seems more thematic and pulled-together than most.
  53.   Kathleen Edwards, Voyageurs – One of the first major studio releases in 2012 got brownie points for having Michigan on the cover (and Edwards is Canadian).  This was written in that point between her divorce and the blossoming of her romance with Justin (Bon Iver) Vernon.  There’s a lot of wistful bitterness and heartache within, and great songs like ‘Empty Threat’ and ‘Houseful of Empty Rooms.’  This album didn’t move me quite as much as Asking for Flowers, but there’s no denying Kathleen does bitterness very well (joy too).
  54.   Grizzly Bear, Shields – I thought it was cool that the band went more minimalist and gut-level than the orchestral and Beach-Boys-inspired Veckatimest, but I have to admit Grizzly Bear doesn’t hold my interest as much as it does all the critics that put the band in their Top Ten.  Cool album, though.
  55.    The Mountain Goats, Transcendental Youth – Some folks figure I’m such a huge Mountain Goats fan, I’d automatically put anything with Darnielle in it within the Top Ten.  It’s true I don’t think Darnielle has ever written a bad song, but some albums certainly are better than others.  Among MG albums of the last decade or so, this probably has less focus than any save Get Lonely, but Darnielle is a new daddy with a burgeoning homemade soup business, so he is forgiven a lot.  The album sort of progresses from stripped-down in the beginning to more lush and orchestrated at the end.  Oddly enough, I like the last songs the best, though many probably feel exactly the opposite.
  56.   Robert Pollard, Jack Sells the Cow – Everything I said above about John Darnielle applies to Pollard.  Last year, Pollard’s Lord of the Birdcage and New Theory of Everything were exceptional albums, but this year, he’s put the bulk of his energy into the three Guided by Voices albums listed earlier.  I’m not sure why I like this solo album better than Mouseman Cloud, maybe its crispness, whatever that means.
  57. Kimbra, Vows – Wow!  The Kiwi woman who sings backup with Gotye on ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ shows she can craft an album far better and more varied than Wally/Gotye.  Compelling and upbeat in almost every song.
  58.   A.C. Newman, Shut Down the Streets – Given the number of songs in which Neko Case sings backup, this is almost a New Pornographers album.  It can’t quite reach the layers of harmonies and intriguing beats of a full NP, but this is probably Newman’s best solo work.
  59.   Beach House, Bloom – With each succeeding album, Victoria Legrand sounds more like Claudia Gonson of Magnetic Fields, which is a good thing in my book.  For someone labeled “dream pop,” Beach House is learning to deliver with a lot of passion and directness, making this their best yet.
  60.   Animal Collective, Centipede Hz – A lot of people will tell you that Animal Collective has fallen into a rut, simply because the nay-sayers are getting tired of the noise-and-fun-pop excursions taken by Avey Tare and company.  This doesn’t grab the heart as easily as Merriweather Post Pavilion, but it is just as varied and fun.  It seems the world has grown tired of Animal Collective, but that’s the world’s problem.
  61.   Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah!  Don’t Bend!  Ascend! – The reunion of the Canadian soft-loud orchestralists has given us perhaps their most fully-realized work, but there’s still a feeling we’ve heard this before.  It may be like Eno’s ambient work (below), we’ve heard elements of it before, and we’re just getting tired.
  62.   King Elk, Making Buildings Out of Everything – An intriguing young band that takes some styling and songwriting directions from both Conor Oberst and The Flumps, giving us a tight and direct debut album.
  63.   Pinback, Information Retrieved – Given the two mysterious information 7” singles Pinback released in the last year, I thought this was going to be one gigantic cryptography puzzle-box.  The album is much more straightforward than that, but this does not imply boring or tedious.  Pinback does pop better than most, and it consistently shows.
  64.   Two-Door Cinema Club, Beacon – In the category of bouncy, infectious, electronica twee, these guys hold the trophy  -- although it is obvious that a live performance carries more fire than studio, as will be discussed in the bonus-edition note.  Bonus Edition Handicap:  The two-disc version of this album has Two-Door playing most of their previous album and three songs from the new one before a live audience.  It’s arguably the best part of the new release.
  65.   Xiu Xiu, Always – Another dose of the always-maniacal Jamie, though this one might be a little more predictable than the insanity of 2010’s Dear God I Hate Myself.
  66.   Pete Swanson, Man with Potential/Man with Garbage – This only ranks lower because Swanson is an acquired taste, but the keyboard experimentalist who once was half of Yellow Swans is doing some amazing work these days, including a “dance” (noise) EP that ranks high in the singles/EPs section.  Bonus Edition Handicap: The version of the LP that has the bonus CD, Man With Garbage, is absolutely the one you want.
  67.   Six Organs of Admittance, Ascent – Why did Ben Chasny call this a Six Organs album, when the lineup and musical style so closely resembles Comets On Fire?  In any event, this stomping psychedelic jam smokes from beginning to end.
  68.   Black Moth Super Rainbow, Cobra Juicy – A couple reviews made it sound as though BMSR had gone to new heights/lows with their strange psychedelia, with one reviewer suggesting they had become demons on Earth.  I dunno, sounds like another BMSR album to me, which means cool and smooth and strange, but hardly satanic.
  69.   Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls – Brittany Howard provides such a unique, soulful, and ass-kicking front to a bunch of Southern-fried white boys, the album is on many folks’ Top Ten.  I love her song stylings, but the music itself reminds me of why most Southern rock tends to sound the same after a while.
  70.   Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan – David Longstreth has been able to move beyond Bitte Orca, but the more we hear, the more we realize David relies on some terminal cuteness, which cuts into the band’s effectiveness – though they remain important.
  71.   Hospitality, s/t And speaking of twee music and terminal cuteness, Amber Papini can have you convinced within a few minutes that the band can be the American Belle & Sebastian.  It’s easy to get over-sugared with Hospitality, though.
  72. Alicia Keys, Girl on Fire – No one doubts Alicia’s extreme talents in both songwriting and arrangement, and who can blame her for wooing a younger and edgier audience?  The only problem arises when she tries to move into the largely content-free world of Rhianna et. al.  Be sultry, be dance-centric, Alicia, but stay true to your voice.
  73.   John Cale, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood  – Honoring the last of our five geezers, we have to point out that this former Velvet Undergrounder is still making very fun, bouncy, and cerebral music.  A stupid album title didn’t help him, but don’t let it turn you off, there are fun songs within.
  74.   Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits – Spoon fans should appreciate the fact that Britt Daniels dominates this supergroup, making this almost a Spoon album but with more percussion and electronics.  No frills, just straightahead good riffs and fun tunes.
  75.  Eno, Lux – It’s nice to hear Eno get back to some Music for Airports styles of ambient music, though more than one critic has raised the question, how do you really grasp and characterize ambient backgrounder work?
  76.  Fun, Some Nights – Some might characterize Fun as the ultimate manufactured and hyped band, but if you’ve ever seen them on the late-night TV shows, you know that this band can rock out, more so than earlier hyped quasi-predecessors like Foster the People.  To put it simply, Fun is fun.
  77.   First Aid Kit, The Lion’s Roar – The New Zealand folk duo is stepping up with some direct and powerful songs, in an album that hangs together well.  Bonus Edition Handicap: Deluxe version has files for a live show on KCRW, but it’s mostly songs from the album – nice extra but not essential.
  78.   Garbage, Not Your Kind of People – Shirley M. shares the problem of all bands reuniting.  The new material is strong and interesting, but people always put bands reuniting from 90s, 80s, on a lower tier than the newcomer.  Garbage deserves more.  A worthy return to form.
  79.   The ReMINDers, Born Champions – It’s not easy to be an R&B/hip-hop duo and deliver sweet passion without sounding trite.  It took four years from the first album, but The ReMINDers’ sophomore effort delivers constant sucker punches to the solar plexus.  Impressive.
  80.  Sigur Ros, Voltari – A nice instrumental extension of earlier themes, though Sigur Ros shares the problem of Godspeed and similar instrumental bands – how to provide continuity and innovation at the same time.
  81.   Lambchop, Mr. M – Kurt makes such interesting, indescribable sounds incorporating ballads and weird arrangements, it’s difficult to characterize a Lambchop album.  This one is a concept album of sorts, well over an hour in length with moments of unusual beauty.
  82.   Aimee Mann, Charmer – Aimee has such a distinctive world-weary voice and Beatles-Rubber-Soul style, a new album is always a pleasure.  But it’s tough to rank her work against her own earlier albums, and against everyone else as well.
  83.   The Haunted Windchimes, Out with the Crow – The favored 1930s art-deco sweethearts of Pueblo, CO, have moved to new levels of assurance and professionalism on this album to justify their star Prairie Home Companion appearance.  A little bit of a niche sound, but utterly charming.
  84.   Father John Misty, Fear Fun – Probably the best thing to spin out of Fleet Foxes, this album is also the finest released by Joshua Tillman/Father John Misty, with the song ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ in particular sticking in the brain cells.  Bonus Edition Handicap: The early versions of this album didn’t have any audio or video extras.  It had Joshua’s novel – in teeny tiny type.  Worth finding if only for the novelty.
  85. K. Salvatore, Tsar Ova Elk -- As close as we'll get to a new No-Neck offering this year, the mysterious Salvatore gives us a more melodic base than usual.
  86.   Marissa Nadler, The Sister – More intriguing than her first commercial-release album, if only because there is some sibling rivalry and fear creating some delicious tension in these songs.
  87.   Robert Pollard, Mouseman Cloud – It may be the lowest ranked of the Pollard-related material this year, but it’s Robert Pollard, which means it already outranks 90 percent of what’s out there.  Some good tight pop songs within.
  88.   Beth Orton,  The Sugaring Season – Wonderful to have Beth back, doing some minimalist compositions, but something in the delivery makes it seem a trifle flat.
  89.   Brandi Carlisle, Bear Creek – Hand it to Brandi for attempting an all-country/Americana album.  Some of the songs are just sort of average, but at least she tries to expand her base.
  90.   Peter Buck, s/t – The former REM guitarist elects to go small-label and vinyl-only for his first solo work.  He pulls in Lenny Kaye for backup work, and Corin Tucker for background vocals.  They’re having a great time here, but the best moments of the album are when Corin sings.
  91.   Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts – Like Brandi, Norah deserves a lot of credit for trying to stretch her boundaries.  This is supposed to be the minimalist heartache album, similar to Beck’s Sea Change, but the songs take a while to sink in.  Better than rehashing her standard soft-jazz ground, though.
  92.   Band of Horses, Mirage Rock – Though I’ve never been a big BoH fan, this album is the most free-wheeling, upbeat, and fun of anything they’ve done – thanks in part to production by Glyn Johns.  This is the direction I hope Band of Horses continues to head.  Bonus Edition Handicap: The Sonic Ranch Sessions CD on the deluxe edition is some of the best music on the album, though it’s also available as a standalone vinyl EP.
  93.   Passion Pit, Gossamer – I’ve gotten somewhat sick of the band’s ‘Take A Walk’ being used by Taco Bell, and leader Michael Angelakos can be a little annoying at times – but when he comes up with a real toe-tapper like ‘I’ll Be Alright,’ watch out.
  94.   Lee Ranaldo, Between Time and Tides – This is far from Sonic Youth member Ranaldo’s first album, but it’s his first widely available pop piece.  You get the distinct expression after a few listens that Lee contributes a lot more pop sensibility to Sonic Youth than is realized.
  95.   Bob Mould, Silver Age – In which the former Husker Du and Sugar lead vocalist looks back on a life in punk, independent production, and political struggles.  Sincere, and still retaining an edge.
  96.   Great Lake Swimmers, New Wild Everywhere – Tony Dekker’s got some strong new lyrical material here, though the band has sounded tighter in a couple of its live-in-studio sessions.  Bonus Edition Handicap: The double-disc edition has some fine acoustic and alternate-take songs.
  97.   Silversun Pickups, Neck of the Woods – While no single song on the new album has the power of ‘It’s Nice to Know You Sleep Alone,’ this is a good solid Silversun release, too bad it was sort of shunted aside by many.
  98.   Off!, s/t – A fine reunion of solid, powerful songs with some Pettibon cover art.  I guess I didn’t rank it higher because hardcore was the genre of punk I cared less for than art-punk, no-wave, etc.  Definitely a bundle of energy, though.
  99.   Mission of Burma, Unsound – This is probably the finest MoB work since the reunion, featuring a primitive and static, jerky sound that provides life to the new songs.
  100.   White Hills, Flying On This Rock – Perhaps the hardest, fuzziest psychedelia this band has come out with to date.  Sounds best on vinyl.
  101.   Tindersticks, The Something Rain – Many reviewers had this way up on their lists, and the opening song/poem, ‘Chocolate,’  sure held out promise – but I couldn’t help but think that the rest of the album couldn’t stand up to 2010’s Falling Off This Mountain – or the 1990s work, for that matter.
  102.   Tennis, Young and Old – Even though Tennis are local Denver heroes, I thought the first album was the weakest of the beach-rock/yacht-rock revival of 2010-11.  Since that time, Alaina has polished her vocals, and she and Patrick have also improved their in songwriting, in the same fashion as Dum Dum Girls or Best Coast.  They still have some catching up to do, but Tennis is polishing its act.
  103.   Dirty Three, Low Sun – Another long-anticipated reunion, but also limited in execution by the instrumental Morricone-style framework.
  104.   The Wedding Present, Valentina – David Gedge actually has sharpened his focus over the last couple years, but this album was criminally hard to find, considering what an effort the members put into making it.
  105. Dar Williams, In the Time of Gods – With the exception of the spooky song ‘Buzzer,’ most of Williams’ work of the last few years has tried to be more light-hearted than some of her back catalog.  This year, she goes back to a majestic darkness with an album that begins with one of her best songs ever, ‘I Am the One Who Will Remember Everything.’  The album doesn’t always hang together enough to match that opener, but it holds better than the new works from Shawn Colvin or Ani DiFranco.
  106. Marcia Bassett & Samara Lubelski, Sunday Night, Sunday Afternoon – Given the wild unearthly drone Marcia can give us in her Zaimph/GHQ/Hototogisu identities, it’s surprising how delicate this can be – except not really.  Samara is a musician specializing in understatement, which makes this collaboration very interesting.
  107. Black Dice, Mr. Impossible – This album deserves a higher ranking if only because Black Dice has made a better effort to combine weird and dance than in the band’s last couple albums.  Black Dice fans will find it a turn for the better.
  108. Dead Fingers, s/t – The wedded team of Kate Taylor (Maria’s sister) and Taylor Hollingsworth (Conor Oberst’s band) came out with a shit-kickin’ winner of an EP last fall, followed by a full-length in early 2012.  Taylor’s voice can be an acquired taste for a whole album, but you can argue that Taylor & Taylor are scuzz-country’s cutest couple.
  109. Cranberries, Roses – Dolores O’Riodan and band have to face up to the 11 years between studio albums, but the band is still simmering and strident, if a little quieter.  Here’s hoping everyone still remembers The Cranberries.
  110. The Flumps, Scattered Light – Dino can be a little too derivative of Conor Oberst at times, but The Flumps (soon to be known as Hilltop Mansion due to a copyright dispute) have crafted a handmade double CD of ragged but wonderful glory.
  111. Mynabirds, Generals – Laura Burhenn wanted to make a more rocking album than the first Mynabirds’ release, which is all well and good – except that her soulful style so ideally fits a stripped-down, piano-driven sensibility, this one seemed a little misplaced.
  112.  Paul Banks, Banks – The lead singer of Interpol does a competent job here, particularly in ‘The Base,’ but the songwriting seems more flat than typical Interpol material.
  113. Eyvind Kang, The Narrow Garden – Quite well done, but a little unexpected, as the wild violinist who works with Sun City Girls and other experimentalists gives us a quiet and melodic piece of unprecedented delicacy.
  114. The Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea – The marketing material says, “Best MF since 69 Love Songs,” which might be true, but considering that I’ve often said that 69 Love Songs was perhaps the best studio pop album ever produced by anyone, the post-69LS material from MagFields has been a little disappointing.   The fun stuff to catch here usually comes from Claudia Gonson’s lead singing, rather than Stephen Merritt.
  115. The Avett Brothers, The Carpenter – A finely-crafted and somewhat concept-driven album, fun to put on the stereo from time to time, though I fail to see how Avett Brothers capture top ticket-dollar prices wherever they appear.  Good, but not Mumford.
  116. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange – Now this is a pretty good album, but I can’t help but wonder if critics overrated it simply because Ocean came out (as in declaring bisexuality) this year.  I like to see weird percussion and acoustic guitar on R&B albums as much as the next person, but convincing “smooth R&B” can come to us with more panache from people like Ne-Yo, making the Ocean craze a little hard to figure out.
  117. Iris Dement, Sing the Delta – There are some strong and strident songs herein, and it’s good to hear Iris after 16 years.  Her dedication to her daughter is heartfelt, as is her commitment to husband Greg Brown.  Still, the world-weariness almost overwhelms the album, particularly in songs like ‘How I Learned How Not to Pray.’  Look at her photo – this is real 1930s Walker-Evans-style hopeless depression, not the fashionable Gillian Welch variety.  Honestly, that should be more of a reason to listen to the album and support Iris, but this was a tough one for me.
  118. Gary Clark, Blak and Blu – Savior of the blues?  Arguably the closest thing we’ve seen of late.  The album can have some rough spots, but we expect that in memorable blues albums.  What’s surprising is how well a newcomer fits into the pantheon.
  119. Perfume Genius, Put Your Back N 2 It – Some folks might find Mike Hadreas a little too twee-pretentious, but I think his compositions are heartfelt and interesting.  Still, this is short, almost to the point of an EP, and minimalist.
  120. Heartless Bastards, Arrow – Erika Wennerstrom has it in her to be another Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak, but Erika wants to be more of a straightedge hard rocker.  Nothing wrong with that, but she can’t reach that arid prairie feeling she sometimes seems to aim for.  But Heartless Bastards could easily be one of the best hard-rock bar bands in existence, and that’s OK.
  121. Spiritualized, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light – People who called this the best Spiritualized work since Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, were right, in a fashion.  The composition and flow of this album is great, but Spiritualized is stuck in the arena-driven prog-rock sound of the 70s, and the limitations of that approach sometimes are apparent.
  122. Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream – The strength of the first cut, ‘Used to Rule the World,’ convinced me that Bonnie’s new production team had taken her to new levels, but the levels aren’t always sustained.  It’s a new Bonnie album, that’s a good thing, but it won’t necessarily knock you on your ass.
  123. Nada Surf, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy – Nada Surf has achieved new levels of greatness with Doug Gillard as guitarist, but when you come down to it, lead vocalist Matthew Caws writes good songs, though not great ones.  If Nada surf keeps pushing Doug front and center, the band will improve.  Bonus Handicap Edition: The Dulcitone Files bonus CD is a great extra treat.
  124. Spider Webs, Brighton Beach -- Another Tom Carter collaborative project, this with some unusual twists and turns.
  125. ZZ Ward, Til the Casket Drops – ZZ’s been chided a bit for trying to mix hip-hop, blues, and white-woman sultry commercial marketing, but hell, anything that keeps the blues alive and makes it palatable by strutting sex, works for me.  Her ‘Put the Gun Down’ is all kinds of fun.
  126. Sleigh Bells, Reign of Terror – This duo has the typical sophomore slump problem, but it’s one generated by Alexis Krauss’s decision to be Wonder Woman and let the music boom accordingly.  Sleigh Bells already has massively overdriven beats, but it doesn’t need the comic book biff-bam-boom effect to make the music go glam.
  127. Sarin Smoke, Vent – This is the second time that Pete Swanson has joined forces with Tom Carter, and the effect of an overdrive electronic musician getting together with a quiet Buddhist improv guitarist is both arresting and sometimes unnerving.  Usually it works, it’s just a funny mix.
  128. Redd Kross, Researching the Blues – This is odd, it’s billed as the reunion of 1990s heroes Redd Kross, even though the album was recorded in 2007.  Why the five years between recording and release?  Anyway, it’s full of competent and fun power-pop.
  129. XXL, Dude – This is a collaboration between Xiu Xiu and the mysterious band Larsen.  Definitely a must for any Xiu Xiu fan, though Jamie seems to have kept his weirdness in the closet, and the album sometimes sounds like mellow jazz or electronica.
  130. Titus Andronicus, Local Business – After releasing an album of Civil War oddities, Titus Andronicus comes back with a rip-snortin’ bar basher.  When it strives to be a J. Geils Band Full House Live type of album, it works.  When it tries to emulate Deer Tick’s miserable “loose drunk jam” album of last year, it doesn’t work so well.  At least Titus gets points for trying something different each time around.
  131. The Vaccines, Come of Age – It’s so hard to figure out how to take Justin Young and band.  All the right clues are there, the music is more enjoyable than, say, The Hives, yet it relies too much on rhetoric.  Fun to listen to, but disturbing in a way that is difficult to define.  Bonus Edition Handicap: Good live and outtake cuts in the double-disc edition.
  132. Matt & Kim, Lightning – I applaud Matt & Kim’s efforts to strip down the sound, get back to basics with fewer electronica overdubs, but something seems like the all-too-cute duo with keyboards and drums may have played itself out.
  133. Ty Segall, Twins
  134. Ty Segall, Slaughterhouse – I have to admit to still preferring Ty’s work with Sic Alps, but being amazed at the solo output of this multi-instrumentalist.  Sometimes his songs are quite remarkable, but I have trouble seeing the excitement that some people find in his work.
  135. Todd Snider, Acoustic Hymns and Stoner Fables – Todd is at his best in a live environment, and he made a special effort to create memorable special tunes on this one.  It worked for many people who had this album in their Top 20.  Except for a couple songs, it didn’t work so well for me.
  136. Tame Impala, Lonerism – For shoegazer psychedelia, this actually ain’t half-bad.  But critics fall all over themselves to praise Kevin Parker, whose tenor voice is not that distinctive.  Not a bad album, but scarcely worth the huge amount of hype.
  137. Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself – Andrew recorded enough new material to make two separate albums, instead released as BIY and the EP, Hands of Glory.  Funny thing is, the best stuff was reserved for the EP.  Pleasant new tunes, but beyond his novelty whistles and tics, Andrew sometimes doesn’t have a whole lot to say.
  138. Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten – Some call GA the next Springsteen and E Street.  Nice slices of Americana, but I’m not hearing the hyper-romantic/majestic voice of Bruce all that much.  Bonus Edition Handicap: Expanded edition has some nice tunes.
  139. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, The Lion, The Beast, and The Beat – When Grace says she’s going into more complexity, nuance, and layers, you have to take account of the fact that she is a ‘70s-school blues-rock mama, and that’s OK.  Lyrics aren’t going to be deep or ponderous, but this is a pretty varied work for Grace.  Bonus Edition Handicap: The super-duper edition gets you bonus tracks, plus a DVD with a live show.  And Grace video always is worth a watch.
  140. Sinead O’Connor – How About I Be Me (and You Be You)? – I’ve believed in Sinead through all her ups and downs, but it often feels as though she wants to air dirty laundry in public.  After the album release, she canceled a global tour, claiming she had another breakdown.  I wish her well, but it’s tough to cope with a continuing series of problems and breakdowns as public events.  Chronicle such things in song, but don’t make them part of the ongoing persona.
  141. Menomena, Moms – I have always loved Menomena as a live act, but studio work seems to get caught up in too much hard-rock ennui.  A lot of people love the new album, but I think the band needs to learn a bit of a lighter, subtle touch.
  142. Tater Famine, Now! – Another young bluegrassy-Americana band sets out to conquer the world.  And these folks have the writing and playing talent to maybe get somewhere.
  143. Cate Le Bon, Cyrk – Fans of the Welsh weird songstress will love this second round of new material, but milder fans will wonder if this album really advances much beyond the first.
  144. The Raveonettes, Observator – Even though The Raveonettes continue to innovate with more piano and more subtle tunes, I have the feeling that the duo’s own prolific output is becoming a burden.  There’s a definite feel as though we’ve heard too much Raveonettes in too short a period of time.
  145. Trailer Trash Tracys, Ester – The name of this British band would have you think of retro-punk or all-girl surfer music, but TTT’s actually offer up an ethereal sort of dream-pop that fits well with being openers for The xx and similar bands.  Fascinating, if a little limited in their first album.
  146. Rufus Wainwright, Out of the Game – I’ve never been a huge Wainwright fan, and his effort to move in a more dancing direction may take him out of folkie hell, but puts more representation issues on his shoulders.  But he’s still a fun listen, and if giving him props lets me meet his sister Martha, so much the better.
  147. Justin Townes Earle, Nothing’s Gonna Change – Steve Earle’s son, J.T., puts on a helluva live show, but his studio forays have been a little flat, and the new one is no exception.  Maybe he needs to put out a live album to crank up the excitement a notch.
  148. Xavier Rudd, Spirit Bird – This is a beautifully executed album exploring belief systems, Aborigine creation tales, etc., and allows Xavier to play out his multi-instrumentalism.  Still, I wonder if Rudd is letting his inner-hippie get the best of him.  Is that sage or patchouli I smell?  Kumbaya.  Is that too jaded?
  149. Glen Hansard, Rhythms and Repose – Hansard’s contribution to the Hunger Games soundtrack was so jolting and inspired, I held out high hopes for his solo album.  Unfortunately, he’s still mourning the Marketa breakup, but hasn’t even used that to make classic sad songs.  The songs here are an interesting addition to Frames and Swell Season material, but they’re a little uninspired.  I’m hoping the Hunger Games material is more indicative of where Glen will go.
  150. Ani DiFranco. Which Side Are You On? – A long overdue collaboration with Pete Seeger and a re-commitment to an activist life should have made this album a winner, but it is hit or miss.  Ani has mined some interesting material through connubial bliss, but she needs to grab us by the throat again.
  151. Green Day, Uno!
  152. Green Day, Dos!
  153. Green Day, Tre! – Sure, we all have our own “Why Billie Joe annoys me” story, but let’s give Green Day credit for calling a halt to the American Idiot/21st Century Breakdown conceptual rock opera period, and giving us 37 songs of light-hearted, dull-witted fun.  Many of these slap-dash numbers are actually pretty clever, just so long as you don’t think too hard.  I couldn’t go the route many went of putting the Green Day trilogy in the top 10 or 20, but don’t chide them for moronic punk.  Look at how iconic The Ramones have become over the years.
  154. The Hives, Lex Hives – Even though it’s been five years between albums, Hives haven’t really moved into new territory.  Energy, lively fun tunes, but not a lot that is memorable.
  155. The Wallflowers, Glad All Over – Jakob Dylan had been off exploring a variety of solo opportunities for a few years, so I didn’t hold out super-high hopes for a Wallflowers reunion (though the live show we caught in Knoxville in 2010 was pretty decent).  Still, this album has a lot of interesting riffs, no true J. Dylan classics, but worth a listen.
  156. Regina Spektor, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats – Sure, there are some worthy tunes like ‘Oh Marcello’ – it’s Regina, how could there help but be?  All in all, though, this feels almost like an album that had to be made to fulfill a contract.  Spektor is so well known for works she puts her heart and soul into, she seems to not be connected to this new material.
  157. Craig Finn, Clear Heart Full Eyes – Everyone’s been giving The Hold Steady’s lead singer some thumbs-up for his solo work, but I’ve never thought Finn’s songwriting was all that great, even with HS.  As a solo artist, he’s sincere and mildly interesting, but that doesn’t go too far.
  158. The Mars Volta, Noctourniquet – I’m glad they’re still trying to keep the band together for its unique blend of prog-rock and math-rock, and this one tries to sound a little more spontaneous, but I think MV needs to play some dirt-simple 12-bar blues at this point.
  159. The Fray, Scars and Stories – Oh, damn.  I cut The Fray a lot of slack for their second album because they’re Denver kids.  When album three came up formulaic, I cut loose the emotional Colorado ties and left them to their new UK estate, hoping for better luck with Colorado bands like Tennis and The Lumineers.  ‘Tis a pity.  Maybe Isaac can get his groove back, but not with this album.
  160. Beachwood Sparks, Tarnished Gold – At the turn of the millennium, Beachwood Sparks was seen as the savior of country-rock/Americana, and this is the first return to the studio in a decade.  Somehow the magic is mostly gone.  Pleasant enough, but sort of like settling for Souther Hillman Furay when you really wanted some Byrds or Flying Burrito Brothers.
  161. Shawn Colvin, All Fall Down – She’s got a great backup band this time around, with Buddy Miller et. al., but it seems as though Shawn doesn’t have anything nearly as inspired as ‘Sonny Came Home.’
  162. Ben Folds Five, Sound of the Life of the Mind – I feel a bit sorry for Ben Folds, despite his silly diversion into TV shows etc.  This reunion reminds us of the best of his 1990s work with the Ben Folds Five, yet critics have savaged this album.  It’s low on my list, too, but I can appreciate its historical value of emulating a certain time and place – and bringing us new material too.
  163. Donald Fagen, Sunken Condos – What I just said about Ben Folds for the 1990s might apply equally well for Fagen and the 1970s.  The new album is the best of  his long-drawn-out trilogy of albums, and is at least as good as anything Steely Dan has released since 1980 or so.  But is the Fagen sound still relevant in the 21st century?  You decide.
  164.  Gossip, Joyful Noise – Gossip’s Music for Men made the top of my 2009 list, and then lead singer Beth Ditto took a break to become a disco diva.  That could certainly be applied to Gossip in a useful way, but the new album seemed to be dance-floor tunes with little life.  I am sure Gossip can get back into their 2009-style groove, but it may take work.  Bonus Edition Handicap:  The extra disc of remixes that came with early copies of this album is arguably the best thing on the album.
  165. Snow Patrol, Fallen Empires – Gary Lightbody actually tried to strike a different direction with his Tired Pony side project, as well as the last Snow Patrol album, Hundred Million Suns.  But the band seems to have decided that romantic themes for Grey’s Anatomy brings in more money than pushing the envelope, so this is more of a return to old form.  Bonus Edition Handicap: Even if Gary’s posturing and preening drives you mad, the live DVD that comes with early copies of this album is one of the most perfectly-produced live-show DVDs I’ve ever seen.
  166. Gotye, Making Mirrors – Wally needs to take lessons at album creativity from his sometime-partner, Kimbra, because there’s not a whole lot of reason to go beyond simply buying the great single, ‘Somebody That I Used to Know.’  There’s maybe two other songs on this album that are even a tenth as compelling as that single.
  167. The Shins, Port of Morrow – There’s a couple songs on this album that are worth your while, but it gets downgraded by what a total jerk Shins founder James Mercer has become, adding and dropping Shins members in order that James can live up to the earlier name of the band, Flake Music.  The only smart thing he did was to add Jessica Dobson on guitar for the touring band in 2012, though her work does not appear on this album.  If The Shins are to survive in any instantiation, Mercer needs to learn to stop being an asshole – fast.
  168. The Killers, Battle Born – I kept this on the list because of a few worthwhile tunes, but lead singer Brandon Flowers needs to drop the delusions of grandeur and the desire to make Springsteen-style arena rock.  Even the songs favored by critics, like ‘Miss Atomic Bomb,’ simple aren’t all that great.  Emulating Bruce worked OK for Sam’s Town, but Killers are now giving us such a mish-mosh of electronica and E Street/U2 soundalikes, it just turns into goulash.  And Flowers doesn’t help by believing his own hype about being the coolest man alive.  Um, no.
  169. Ke$ha, Warrior – Pay attention here.  Why would I put Ke$ha on the list, albeit at the bottom, while leaving off Pink?  Maybe because Pink believes her own hype about poor little punk girl with a heart of gold, while Ke$ha is just a Long Island trash-talkin’ bitch who doesn’t pretend to be anything greater.  Her work with Flaming Lips and Iggy Pop proves she’s ready to add some rock to the mix, and even though none of this fluff is grandiose, it’s sorta fun.  Bonus Edition Handicap: By concluding the expanded edition of the album with ‘Past Lives,’ she stole the heart of a Tibetan Buddhist wannabe like me.

Special Albums (Live, Compilations, Splits, CD-Rs, MP3, etc.)

  1. Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer, Little Blue Egg – Tracy astonished everyone five years ago when she dredged out an album’s worth of amazing new material, Seven Is The Number.  Five years later and ten years after Dave’s untimely death, she surprises us once again with songs that are scarcely leftovers.  They are crucial and vibrant Dave Carter songs, along with a cover of Billy Bragg’s/Woody Guthrie’s ‘Way Down Yonder in the Minor Key.’  Could there be more surprises in another five years?
  2. Various Artists, In Support of Tom Carter (CD)
  3. Various Artists, Music for Tom Carter (digital files) – Two remarkable collections of improvisational music, featuring people like Bill Orcutt, Bridget Hayden, Neil Campbell, to raise money for Tom Carter to pay his Berlin hospital bills for a life-threatening pneumonia case in the summer of 2012.  Not just a great cause, but exceptional experimental music.
  4. Various Artists, Chimes of Freedom, The Music of Bob Dylan (Benefit for Amnesty International) – It was hard to believe that there could be four CDs’ worth of Dylan covers after all the amazing numbers on the movie soundtrack to I’m Not There.  But wow, does this compilation come through.  Even artists like Miley Cyrus and Ke$ha accomplish remarkable things, breathing new life into the rich Dylan catalog.  Simply mind-boggling.
  5. Mogwai, A Wrenched Vile Lore – If you thought the 3-LP set of Mogwai covers that was released ten years ago, Mogwai Fear Satan/Kicking A Dead Pig, was stunning, try out this vinyl-only release of remixes by various artists from the Mogwai album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.  Dance music for intellectual oddballs.
  6. The Shadow Ring, Remains Unchanged – We should give thanks to Graham, Tim, and Darren for taking the time to assemble a best-of collection two years ago, Life Review, now augmented with a 2-LP collection of unreleased material.  As John Peel said, the music of The Shadow Ring was unsettling, odd, and a bit scary, but it broke ground the way few artists at the end of the 20th century did.
  7. Jailbreak, Colour Me Gone – Heather Leigh Murray already is known as a virtual wild beast on slide guitar, but when she gets together with drummer Chris Corsano of Vibracathedral/Sunburned/Six Organs fame, the roof blows off this sucker on this CD-R.  I hear rumors of an earlier Jailbreak LP, I must be on the lookout for more from this wild wild duo.
  8.  Jay Farrar (w/ Yim Yames, Will Johnson, Anders Parker), New Multitudes (Woody Guthrie songs)  – Since Jay’s old bandmate Jeff Tweedy got TWO cracks at the Woody Guthrie archives, it was only fair that Jay, a lover of all literary icons of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, should get his own turn.  And boy, do he and Yames/Parker/Johnson unearth some new goodies from Nora Guthrie’s vault.  Farrar has aimed for some more explicitly political poems than Wilco and Billy Bragg (or Jonatha Brooke, for that matter) did, but they sound timeless.  Bonus Edition Handicap: The double-disc version is essential, as what they call “bonus” songs include some of the very best.
  9. Pelt, Effigy – An argument could be made that this elegy of sorts to Jack Rose, packaged in double LP format, is a normal studio album, but with Pelt, you’re never sure.  I’m calling it a special due to the odd conditions of its recording, and its limited release.  Maybe not as wild and wooly as a few of Pelt’s recent albums, but a tribute that Jack Rose would have liked just fine.
  10.  Deral Fenderson, Prescription Series – If you’re a close-looker and fast-mover, you might have some original copies of work from the amazingly-strange Dr. Fenderson, such as Jonny Hambone or Mucilage.  For the rest of you poor suckers, a massive Fenderson archive has been offered up with more than six hours of material.  If this prescription doesn’t make you better, no recovery is possible.
  11.   Zaimph, Control Risks – Marcia Bassett’s darkest and scariest electronic work of 2012 was released on cassette only.  Her LP and CD-R offerings under the name Zaimph in 2012 were amazing as well, but this one is special.
  12.   Pauline Oliveros, Reverberations: Tape and Electronic Music, 1961-70 – Sure to be too pricey for many, perhaps, but the Oliveros fan can find a copy of this 12-CD collection for under $100. ( full disclosure: I borrowed a friend’s.  I have no money!) This is the early Oliveros before de-tuned accordion and “Deep Listening,” and should give a good overview of this woman’s incredible roots.
  13.   Harry Pussy, One Plus One – A 2-LP set consisting of unreleased tracks and early demo material recorded at home, in the early 1990s, as Bill and Adris squabble their way to what would eventually be the big breakup that also shattered Harry Pussy.  Fascinating, and makes you feel like a voyeur at ‘Scenes from a Marriage.’
  14.   Natural Snow Buildings, Night Coercion Into the Company of Witches – Released in a limited 2007 edition, this re-release by Ba-Da-Bing on LP and CD is a sprawling 2 ½-hour work that is the definitive NSB to hear, shifting from dreamy and droney to abrasive, and going all over the map.
  15.   Van Der Graaf Generator, ALT – A collection of outtakes and jams from recent work that is actually more appealing than some of VdG’s more proper new releases, this one is playful and serious at the same time, working with melody and found sounds in unusual ways.
  16.   Tom Carter and Robert Horton, Nyida Days – More compelling and beautiful than their earlier work as a duo, the two Zen specialists in drone compile works of soaring beauty.
  17.   Neil Campbell and Robert Horton, Trojandropper – And now for the other side of the coin.  Horton gets together with the trickster from Astral Social Club and Vibracathedral Orchestra, Neil Campbell, to create an LP of bliss and silly sounds that recalls ASC’s Happy Horse.  Marvelous stuff.
  18.   Christina Carter, Imaginee – Christina has offered more and more works where the spoken poem replaces guitar, voice as enchanted wail, or odd found sounds as the primary instrument.  This brings the poem front and center more than any other work, and might be considered her spoken-word poetry album – though there are many additional weird-improv bonuses.
  19.   The Hunger Games Original Soundtrack, Songs from District 12 – It’s not often I list soundtracks, but this one has originals from Arcade Fire, Decemberists, Glen Hansard, Civil Wars, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Birdy – what’s not to like?  Some Amazon reviewers thought that Hansard’s ‘Take the Heartland’ was a screaming repetitive mess, but I beg to differ.  It’s more interesting than anything from his 2012 solo album, as well as most tunes from Glen and Marketa together.
  20.  Bill Orcutt, Why Does Everybody Love Free Music But Nobody Loves Free People? – This cassette-only live album release has some of Bill’s most raucous acoustic guitar work and screaming tics of any his solo work to date.
  21.   Zaimph, Private Body – A tour-only CD-R that was one of three Marcia Bassett releases as Zaimph in 2012.  Only a bit further down from Control Risks, this one is noisy, overdriven with sirens, and spooky.
  22.   Bardo Pond, Yntra – While this is listed at times as an EP, it’s well over 45 minutes and expensive, so I’ve considered it a special full-length edition of the Latitudes series, and it’s the mighty psych-masters Bardo Pond, so of course it’s great.
  23.   Neil Young and Crazy Horse, AmericanaIt’s an interesting concept – offer up some traditionalist folk tunes, but with a Crazy Horse buzz like they’ve never been played before.  Still, this special album was overshadowed by Crazy Horse’s amazing Psychedelic Pill 2-CD set.  But the next time someone pulls out a compilation of old folk tunes, put on this one to make them freak out.
  24.   Sharon Van Etten, Cameo Gallery, Brooklyn, Dec. 15, 2012 – This modest but beautiful recording is, along with the Dinosaur Jr. reunion, the best live MP3/FLAC shows that has offered us this year.  Wonderful.
  25.   Gert Frobe (Stephen Caratzas), SPUT – The NYC lo-fi multi-instrumentalist who bears the name of the old James Bond movie bad-guy, released this set of downloads at year’s end, loosely representing chapters of William S. Burroughs’ book Exterminator!  An odd concept, to be sure, but a fun listen with brownie points for originality, fragments of pop tunes careening off found sounds in a manner that recalls Residents or Negativland.
  26.  The Capitol, Live – Always a pleasure to see a bunch of young roustabouts blow the roof off this sucker.  Good teen fun.
  27.   Swans, We Rose from Your Bed with the Sun In Our Head – A devastatingly lovely live performance, with more percussion from Thor Harris than is in this year’s studio album.  My only complaint is that the lineup is very similar to Swans’ majestic 2012 studio album, The Seer, which might lead some to wonder if this was superfluous.  But you can never have too much Swans.
  28.   Joan of Arc, Performs Joan of Arc – An interesting live double-LP set of Tim Kinsella and the boys playing instrumental pieces to the film “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”  Those used to the endless variety of the band may find all four sides of this to have repeating themes, but that’s to be expected when they are playing for film.  Nice work.
  29.   Antony and the Johnsons, Cut the World – A breathtaking album of Antony singing with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra.  Even those who find Antony an acquired taste will have to love the way songs from albums like Swan Lights are arranged.
  30.   William Basinski, Disintegration Loops – The new and expensive re-release of Basinski’s Sept. 2001 experiments in digitizing deteriorating analog tapes, are the result of a New York City performance of the loops as part of a 9/11 tenth anniversary celebration.  Parts are more ambient than Eno or Glass, to be sure, but other parts (Disc 3, for example) might send you into fits of tears.
  31.   DeVotchKa, Live with the Colorado Symphony – Some bands can really suffer when their music is heavily orchestrated.  Others get a little too eclectic for some tastes, like the Antony & the Johnsons performance listed earlier.  But this performance in the summer of 2012 fits DeVotchKa’s gypsy music well, particularly Nick’s soaring tenor.
  32.   Natural Snow Buildings, Live in Sheffield and London – After experiencing the 3-CD set listed above to see where NSB has been, this cassette release can give you a taste of the 2012 music of the esoteric French duo.
  33.   White Hills, Abstractions and Mutations – A re-engineered and vinylized re-release of a 2007 tour CD-R, nice sampling of White Hills’ earlier work.
  34.   Cheryl Wheeler, Live (Greetings from) – Cheryl’s somewhat famous for never bothering to get much of her work on studio releases, particularly now that she does many gigs as a duo with Kenny White.  This long-overdue session comes at the end of a 2012 NW tour, recorded at Seattle’s Triple Door, and collects such necessary tunes as ‘Gandhi/Buddha,’ ‘Lady Gaga’s Singing Program’ (an ode to Westboro Baptist Church), and ‘Pop Tarts and Spam.’  Cheryl’s always perfect with the droll, snide humor, except when she’s breaking your heart.
  35.  Various Artists, Occupy This Album – Too bad the bulk of the Occupy Movement fell apart before this benefit release could come to much good.  It’s an odd combination, not the immediate killer session like the Amnesty International set of Dylan covers, but it has some decent cuts spread across four discs, like Jill Sobule and John Doe singing ‘Under the Bridge,’ the James McMurtry/Joan Baez/Steve Earle Trio signing ‘We Can’t Make It Here,’ Dar Williams’ fine ‘Play the Greed’, etc.
  36. The Chieftains, Voice of Ages – Every decade or so, The Chieftains gets together with a bunch of pop artists to rework Celtic greats.  This one is a killer, with appearances from Carolina Chocolate Drops, Decemberists, Bon Iver, Punch Brothers, and The Civil Wars (with Joy singing a dreamy ‘Lily Love.’ Bonus Edition Handicap: All you get with the two-disc edition is a “how this disc was made” documentary and a music video of The Low Anthem.  Unless you’re a big Low Anthem fan, skip it.
  37.   Conor Oberst, One of My Kind – The primary reason for release of the music was the production of a film chronicling Conor’s decision to go to Mexico, take a Bright Eyes hiatus, and form the Mystic Valley Band.  The DVD is interesting, but mostly serves to spotlight material left off the two MVB albums.  Bonus Edition Handicap: The most economic way to snare all the Oberst performances is to buy the vinyl edition of the album, which comes complete with a free CD version and the movie DVD, all in one package for less than $20 if you search.
  38.   Dinosaur Jr., Reunion Performance, 12-1-12 – offers file versions of this album with three different sound sources, all befitting the near-cult status J. Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. retain in some quarters.  I have to admit to only being a mild DJ fan, since it mostly seems like heavy-metal mush, but this live set is quite good, including guest appearances by the likes of Johnny Marr, John Petkovic, and Fred Armisen.
  39.   Tom Carter, Highs in the 20s – This is the most minimalist and simple of Tom’s special limited releases of the year, but in many ways this is the prettiest.
  40.   LCD Soundsystem, Shut Up and Play the Hits – I don’t often review DVD-only releases, but this triple-DVD set is a farewell recap of James Murphy saying goodbye to the LCD Soundsystem experiment.  A fun overview, also available in an insanely overpriced Blu-Ray version if you insist on that sort of thing.
  41.   Flaming Lips & Heavy Friends – In some ways, this is the silliest and least pretentious of Wayne Coyne’s recent experiments, being a set of wacky send-ups featuring folks like Yoko Ono, Bon Iver, Ke$ha, Edward Sharpe, and Lightning Bolt.  Not to be taken seriously, just a Flaming Lips kick-back.  Bonus Edition Handicap: On Record Store Day, very limited numbers of this album came with blood samples of each of the guest stars.  Really, Wayne, even it it hadn’t been sold at astronomical prices, this is one limited edition I’d be sure to skip.  I already had to deal with dangerous blood smears with Caroliner Rainbow’s I’m Armed with Quarts of Blood.
  42.   The Dead C, Harsh ‘70s Reality – There are folks that might list their favorite Dead C album as The White House, Clyma est Mort, or Trapdoor Fucking Exit, but most fans of the New Zealand noise mystics will list this seminal work as one of the most mysterious, noisy, and downright frightening albums ever, now reproduced on high-quality vinyl.  When I die, I want to wear a Harsh ‘70s Reality T-shirt in my coffin.
  43.   Cage the Elephant, Live from the Vic, Chicago – In the studio, these goofy power-poppers have a reputation for making rock fun again.  On the live audio CD, the sound doesn’t seem as inspired, but the combined DVD gives a better video representation of CtE as young lunatics.
  44.   The Decemberists, We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, Live – I can’t rank this one higher because I expect originality from Colin Meloy, and this is more of a standard stock double-CD live album, complete with sing-offs between stage-left and stage-right sections of the audience.  Really, Colin?  Have we gone that Hollywood?  Still a worthy live set for multiple parts of ‘The Crane Wife’ etc., but far too ordinary for The Decemberists.
  45.  Florence and the Machine, Unplugged – C’mon, nothing Florence does is ever unplugged.   I’m someone who would buy special editions of Florence farting, yet I found this particular session not that inspiring.  Florence fans will want it for covers of ‘Jackson’ and ‘Try a Little Tenderness,’ but other than that, nothing special.
  46.   The Supreme Dicks, Live on WFMU – Last year, the back catalog of Supreme Dicks was re-released to indicate what a special and strange band this was in the mid-1990s.  The reunion is a bit sloppy and difficult to characterize, but it is worth finding the download files.
  47.   Tom Carter and Bardo Pond, April 23 and April 25, 2003 – The reason this is more than a simple re-release of a monumental jam session is because it includes a bonus disc of rehearsal and outtake jam sessions between two of our psychedelic favorites.

Singles and EPs

  1. Diane Cluck, fall. tour. songs.  – Praise whatever god you choose, Diane is back!  Here’s six songs she’s been playing with cellist Isabel Castellvi, and they pick up precisely where she left off in 2006 or so, but even more direct and beautiful.  ‘Content to Reform’ is currently driving me nuts.
  2. Frightened Rabbit, State Hospital – A deliciously morose five-song teaser of the next full-length due in 2013, it sizzles all the way from the title cut, on abuse and madness, to ‘Wedding Gloves,’ a duo with Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat.  It’s hard to believe that this much drunken Scottish suicidal depression can co-exist in one small space.
  3. Pete Swanson, Pro Style – One of the world’s leading wild noise artists decides to make a 12” disco-noise single.  And even Pitchfork stands up and cheers.  Pete’s freakin’ crazy.  And he gave me a burrito once.
  4. Dum Dum Girls, End of Daze – I’ve been going on and on about how Dee Dee of DDG has evolved from average female surf-rock lead singer to dazzling rock vocalist, and the transition continues in this EP.  Let the echoing final lyrics of the final song, ‘Season In Hell,” drill through your brain until you gasp for mercy…. “turn your gaze to the end of days.”
  5. Thee Oh Sees, Putrifier II EP – A lot of people call this a full album, but the band itself refers to it as an EP, and it’s about 30 minutes of tight, bouncy psychedelia.  So there.
  6. Heather Leigh, Empire – The incomparable Heather Leigh Murray released a special 20-minute installation piece in conjunction with Kendra Steiner Studios.  It’s one of Heather’s best.
  7. Karmin, Hello – Amy Heidemann of the candy-pop hip-hop duo Karmin is sort of like Ke$ha with a college degree, and that’s really all you need to know.  It would be easy for those that treat themselves too seriously to despise Karmin, but this bubble gum is fun.
  8. Hopeful Heroines, s/t – Xanthe and Harriet have assembled an indescribable brew of spooky gypsy music.  Xanthe says the first EP is too dark, considering how joyful the duo is.  I say dark is good.
  9. Richard Buckner, WillowTwo recent outtakes of indeterminate origin, offered on a 7” on Record Store Day.  It’s Buckner, it’s impeccable.
  10. Andrew Bird, Hands of Glory – Bird called this EP the leftovers from his February album, but it’s almost 40 minutes long, and I think I like the songs on this one, particularly the last ‘Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses,’ better than the songs on Break It Yourself.
  11.   Kimbra, Settle Down – The extended EP from Record Store Day has almost all new material (save ‘Settle Down’) not included on her Vows album, and it’s a fun, compact cross-section of New Zealand’s best pop stylist.
  12.   Dirty Projectors, About to Die – David saved some nice outtakes from the DP’s most recent album, including the title cut and ‘Simple Request.’
  13.   The Civil Wars, Live at Amoeba – An odd artifact from Record Store Day, in that tracks on a live EP are split with silence, but this one has a cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Disarm’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean,’ so who’s complaining?
  14.   Sebadoh, The Secret EP – Just what the download says, it’s a secret pre-release of tunes from a reunited Lou Barlow and company.  Yes, they’re just as good.
  15.   Lana Del Rey, Paradise – Released in November as both an expanded Born to Die and a standalone EP, I’m going to treat these eight songs as a separate beast, mixed at separate sessions, and having a darker and more orchestrated feel.  ‘I Sing the Body Electric’ and the cover of ‘Blue Velvet’ really stick with me.
  16.   The Mountain Goats, ‘Steal Smoked Fish’/’In the Shadow of the Western Hills’ – Once again, a band offers us a single with songs left off an album that are among the best in a session.  Maddening in any event, but especially (and deliciously) so when it’s John Darnielle.
  17.  The Capitol, Headlights – Does my heart good to see young SoCal whippersnappers make such eloquent and fun pop.
  18.   The Lumineers, Winter EP – Four nice songs to supplement a debut album, including a cover of Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be the Place.’
  19.   Smoke Fairies, The Three of Us – First, only one of four songs here is on the new album Blood Speaks, and second, this is packaged as a double 7” record.  Really, how cool is that?
  20.   Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer, Joy My Love – Since this year’s Little Blue Egg was the second full-length posthumous collection of unreleased songs since Dave died, and since Joy My Love is a set of leftovers from Little Blue Egg, we must be scraping the bottom, right?  Oh no.  Oh no.  The Dave Carter legacy never appears to end.
  21.   Baywood, Seasons – Some find the lead song, ‘I Can Breathe Again,’ by this Southern CA duo, a little too twee-poppy, but the three remaining songs on this EP will turn you into a Baywood believer.
  22. Six Organs of Admittance, Parsons’ Blues – A little more Ben Chasny and a little less rock-out that Six Organs’ full-length this year, but mighty cool stuff.
  23.   Retribution Gospel Choir, The Revolution –   Ever since Alan Sparhawk from Low started RGC as a side project, the question is how much is to be taken seriously from Mr. Morose.  The question isn’t answered on this interesting but muddled EP.  Does he want to rock out?  Is this doom and gloom?  It’s Alan, so we can just take it as good stuff, and not ask additional questions.
  24.   Pinback, Evidence 1
  25.  Pinback, Evidence 2 – These two 7” records are packaged in elaborate intelligence-agency dossiers, which made the resulting album, Information Retrieved, seem a little, well, normal.  In any event, both singles are worth owning for the sheer weirdness factor.
  26.   Kathleen Edwards, Wapusk – One side is from the Voyageurs album (though it might be an alternate cut), but the title side is an ode to a polar bear.  Good to see Kathleen get her 7” vinyl fever out there.
  27.   Xiu Xiu/Dirty Beaches, ‘Always’/’Tu Ne Dis Rien’ –  Our pals cover Erasure and Francois Hardy. One of the better split singles of Record Store Day, a Xiu Xiu offering is always worth following.
  28.   Lydia Loveless, ‘Bad Way to Go’/’Alison’ – Obviously, what makes this single essential is Lydia covering early Elvis Costello.  Dayum.
  29.   Susan M. Peiffer, ‘Get Gruntled’ – I don’t often cover spoken-word CDs, but this is the boisterous and mysterious Ms. Peiffer.  Of course it is critical.
  30.   School of Seven Bells, ‘Kiss Them for Me’/’When She Was Me’—Look ma, Seven Bells covers Siouxsie!
  31.   Laura Marling, ‘Flicker and Fail’/’To Be A Woman’ – Some recent work for a single release.  Last Record Store Day, Marling recorded a set with Mumford & Sons which was instantly unobtainable.  Glad this one could be found.
  32.   Deerhoof/Of Montreal – ‘A Filthy Fifth’/’Feminine Effects’ – Admittedly, I’m not a huge OM fan, so I got this for Deerhoof – who perform on the first side along with Of Montreal.  But still cool.
  33.  Regina Spektor, Sings Two Songs by Bulat Okudzhava in Russian (‘The Prayer of Francois Villon’/’Old Jacket’) – A novelty, perhaps, but in its own way more endearing than most of the tunes on Regina’s new album.
  34.   Carolina Chocolate Drops/Run-DMC, ‘You Be Illin’ (1986-2012) – I’m becoming more and more intrigued with CCD, and to hear them cover Run-DMC is a special treat, particularly on transparent green vinyl.
  35.   Elephant Revival, It’s Alive – The latest unusual original tunes from the Nederland hippie-gypsies.  Damn, these folks are getting proficient.
  36.   Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Live at Sun Studios – This EP is one of the more unusual combination of songs Grace has released, in a special Nashville set at Sun.
  37.   Guided by Voices, Jon the Croc
  38.   Guided by Voices, Everything is Miles
  39.   Guided by Voices, Keep It In Motion
  40.   Guided by Voices, White Flag
  41.   Guided by Voices, Class Clown
  42.   Guided by Voices, Hangover Child – All six singles here have decent non-album B-sides, but as I said earlier, there’s getting to be too much of a predictable assembly line associated with the GbV mighty Wurlitzer.
  43.   The Kills, The Last Goodbye – Mostly worthy as a 10” collectible record from the last Kills album, let’s hope it’s not literally last or literally goodbye.  We need more Kills.
  44.   Cate Le Bon, CYRK II – Again, a set of decent outtakes from CYRK, though nothing heart-stopping.
  45.   Passion Pit, Take A Walk – This song was a lot more palatable before it was chosen as the theme song of Taco Bell’s Dorito-flavored shlocks, but the B-side is ‘Almost There,’ so it’s still worth something.
  46.   ZZ Ward, Criminal – This four-song EP doesn’t have anything not on the full-length, so mostly this is one to grab for collector’s value.
  47.   Gotye/Kimbra ,‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ – I feel compelled to list this since it was such a high-potency earworm, but I’m sick of it by now, so it goes in the next-to-last slot.
  48.   Carly Rae Jepsen, ‘ Call Me Maybe’ – Admit it, even after 50 YouTube parodies, it was still the most unforgettable/annoying single of 2012.

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