Down the Garden Path
Song - Artist - Album
Moanin' - Ray Charles - Genius + Soul = Jazz
In case you missed the Best of 2012 installment of Insomniac Jams a few weeks ago, here is a brief (and super belated, sorry!) write-up of my top 10 favorite albums of the year. There are pictures and music videos too. Awesome.
#10: The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past (Epitaph)
I first heard of these guys when they released their second album Chamberlin Waits in 2010, but never really listened to them until On the Impossible Past came out. Brett Gurewitz said he signed The Menzingers to Epitaph because they play the kind of punk rock that he grew up with, and I would have to agree. On the Impossible Past is thirteen tracks of honest music with your typical power chord rhythms and poppy vocal harmonies, but it never gets boring. “Gates” and “Nice Things” are easily two of my favorite songs of the entire year. Give this a listen if you are into punk rock; you won’t be disappointed.
#9: Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet on Sky (Jagjaguwar)
Dinosaur Jr. can do no wrong in my book. I Bet on Sky is their tenth studio album, and the third since getting back together in 2005, and this album is just as solid as all the others. It’s loud, dark, and filled with guitar solos, as is usual with Dinosaur Jr. albums. But the main reason I love this album, along with everything else in their discography, is that it sounds timeless. I Bet on Sky could have been released in 2012 or 1992, and it would still be relevant in the realm of rock music. This band is just as good in 2012 as they were 28 years ago when they formed, and I get the feeling that they are going to be around for many more years. Recommended listening: “Pierce the Morning Rain,” “Watch the Corners,” and “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know.”
#8: Mumford & Sons – Babel (Glass Note)
I’m not sure whether my taste in music is starting to become more mainstream, or if the majority of music consumers in the US and UK are beginning to wise up to what “real” music is, but either way this album kicks ass. It’s so refreshing to see folk music getting attention, and Mumford & Sons completely deserves all the acclaim that they are getting. The instruments and vocals are layered so beautifully on Babel that as I am writing this and listening to the album I almost feel bad that I only placed it at #8. This is an album that should definitely be in everyone’s music collection.
#7: Passion Pit – Gossamer (Columbia)
When Passion Pit’s first album Manners was released in 2009, I totally expected them to be a one-hit wonder with their song “Sleepyhead.” (Or maybe a two-hit wonder if you count “Little Secrets” as a hit.) Yeah, they were a catchy band, but they were kind of just cashing in on the electronic indie-pop sound that had been made popular the year before by MGMT. Flash forward three years to 2012, and Passion Pit not only comes back with an album that proves they are here to stay, but they write a song that becomes an even bigger hit than “Sleepyhead.” The first time I heard “Take a Walk,” I knew it would be one of the most popular songs of the year, and even though it has been featured in countless commercials and always seems to be playing in the background of NFL games, I haven’t gotten sick of it yet. The entire album is infectious, actually. Michael Angelakos is barely older than I am, but this album may very well define his entire career.
#6: Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls (Ato)
Never heard of Alabama Shakes? Well they are going to be the next big thing, so you should probably give them a listen. The female-fronted four-piece band from Athens, Alabama plays blues and soul influenced Southern rock, and Brittany Howard has the voice of an angel. Seriously. Adele’s got some competition. Boys & Girls may only be their debut album, it has been nominated for three Grammys, including the awards for Best New Artist and Best Rock Performance. This is an extremely young band with a lot of talent; I would not be surprised if they appear on my top albums of the year list again in the future.
#5: The Lumineers – The Lumineers (Dualtone)
I’m going to go ahead and assume that anybody reading this has already heard “Ho Hey” about five thousand times, so I won’t talk about that song, but The Lumineers’ self-titled record is another amazing debut album. Their music is much simpler than that of Mumford & Sons, but I think that also makes it more accessible and timeless. If you’re getting sick of hearing their hit song everywhere you turn, try listening to “Big Parade” or “Charlie Boy”; they’re a little longer, but equally as infectious, and also easy to play on guitar so that you can have sing-alongs with all your friends. J
#4: Minus the Bear – Infinity Overhead (Dangerbird)
I wasn’t expecting to like this album as much as I do. The first single, “Steel and Blood,” sort of follows in the footsteps of the more simple and polished sound that the tracks on Minus the Bear’s 2010 album Omni possessed. However, if you can get past the first song and give the rest of the album the listen it deserves, Infinity Overhead actually sounds like it picks up where 2007’s Planet of Ice left off. The intricate guitar licks that Minus the Bear is known for are here in full-force, especially on the standout track “Diamond Lightning.” While this album is not MTB’s best work, it’s kind of like the best of both worlds, combining the polish of Omni with the musicianship of their first three albums.
#3: Screaming Females – Ugly (Don Giovanni)
I started writing a review for this album, but I really have no words for it. This is the most underrated album of the year, by probably the most underrated band in existence. It’s hard to fathom that this young band from New Jersey has already released five studio albums, and even harder to believe how talented Marissa Paternoster is on the guitar. My mind has officially been blown with this album.
[disclaimer: if you are squeamish, or have a soft spot for cats, you probably shouldn't watch this video.]
#2: The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now (Dead Oceans)
Are people still comparing The Tallest Man on Earth to Bob Dylan? Because I think with Kristian Matsson’s third album, it’s about time the comparisons stop. This man has developed his own brand of folk music over the past few years and has proven that, while he may not sound completely like Dylan, he has the potential to be just as influential of an artist. There’s No Leaving Now features ten new songs that showcase Matsson’s talent at singing, guitar, and just songwriting in general; his previous album The Wild Hunt earned the #1 spot on my top albums of 2010, and though this year he is only the runner-up, it does not mean that his new music is any less beautiful. The album opens with the infectious “To Just Grow Away,” and from there I can just sit and listen to the record for hours. This was by far my most listened to album of 2012.
#1: Japandroids – Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
In 2009, two men from Vancouver named Brian King and David Prowse came out of nowhere with the album Post-Nothing, an eight-song record that was filled with anthems of post-college angst, with riffs that were a mix of punk and lo-fi and garage rock, but that definitely had the energy of way more than two people. To this day, I have not heard a more ambitious or powerful debut album. The summer of 2012 marked the release of Japandroids’ sophomore album Celebration Rock, and to my amazement, it was even better than Post-Nothing. The story line picks up where their first album left off; in opening track “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” the boys chant, “Do we have anything to live for? Well of course we do but ‘til they come true, we’re drinking.” Post-Nothing was full of anthems about being in your twenties and living life to the fullest, wanting to only worry about girls and booze rather than the fact that they will someday die, while on Celebration Rock the boys have grown up a little, but they are still longing for the past, back to the nights where late-night drinking parties were the norm, not wanting to fully accept that their 30s are right on the doorstep and that at some point they will have to come to terms with adulthood. Despite that longing however, they are learning to live in the moment, to celebrate life and not worry about death. Really it’s an album full of anthems that you can totally relate to if you’re in your twenties and if you can relate to them, you won’t be able to stop listening. They also cover “For the Love of Ivy” by The Gun Club, which gets them bonus points. Not like they need them. Naming Celebration Rock as my favorite album of 2012 was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made in my life. Long live Japandroids.