Whether on or off the Internet, I very rarely discuss music. I was a typical top-40 fan as a child, but segued to “alternative music” circa 1989 thanks to the late-night lineups of Post-Modern MTV and 120 Minutes that kept me company over homework into the wee hours every evening. I’ve followed musical acts of varying degrees of talent and volume ever since. I don’t consider myself finicky, but I’m not interested in 99% of the bands that receive mainstream coverage nowadays. I rarely discover new bands because local radio is a joke and I haven’t felt compelled to subscribe to satellite radio yet. You can bet the aging process hasn’t exactly broadened my vistas. As for the disparate gulf between my lifelong musical tastes and my present-day spiritual mindset, that’s a subject for another essay altogether.
I have the hardest time keeping track of when the musicians I still follow finally release new albums, but in 2012 I stumbled across six such occasions, and on another occasion tried one (1) relatively new act with pleasing results. I also bought one reissue, relegated to a separate category of its own. The following list scratches the surface of my purchasing preferences and may or may not provide any insight into me at all.
And just so we’re clear, I really did buy all seven albums on CD. My disdain for collecting digital music is also a subject for another essay altogether.
On with the countdown:
7. Joey Ramone, “…Ya Know?”. If I’m understanding the candid liner notes correctly, the Ramones frontman’s first album since his death in 2004 was constructed from vocal recordings acrimoniously wrested through litigious means from the hands of frequent Ramones collaborator Daniel Rey. The bulk of the posthumous backup-band work is by Joey’s brother Mickey Leigh, late-’80s Ramones producer Ed Stasium, and assorted studio musicians, though a few familiar names also contributed — mid-’80s bandmate Richie Ramone; Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick; Steven Van Zandt; Dennis Diken from the Smithereens; and Joan Jett, though her part is reduced to backing vocals on “21st Century Girl” rather than a true duet. It’s nice to hear one last Joey collection, though the assemblage of various artists creates a sterile, corporate-bar-band sound too diluted to approximate the vintage Ramones buzzsaw sound. (Sample track: “Rock ‘n Roll is the Answer“.)
6. Public Image Ltd., This is PiL. After a twenty-year hiatus, John Lydon (f.k.a. Johnny Rotten), now age 56, reconvened his old post-Sex Pistols group and faithfully recreated the sounds of their first few albums. If you were a fan of “Careering”, “Memories”, and all the other droning late-’70s tracks I liked least from 1990’s The Greatest Hits, So Far, you’ll be pleased with the results. I was more of a fan of the Disappointed” era, but can’t say I hated it. A glimmer of catchiness pops out here and there, the biggest unwitting earworm for me being “Lollipop Opera”, which stuck in my head in an “Afro Circus” way. (Sample track: “One Drop“.)
5. Everclear, Invisible Stars. Art Alexakis remains the only original band member, but has retained a consistent lineup over their last few albums, albeit with a few more organ hooks than I’d prefer. Alexakis remains at his best in his self-deprecating laments about bad choices, whether his own or other people’s, though he can also be a formidable storyteller, as demonstrated with the anti-racism biography “Jackie Robinson” that stands proudly as a sort-of sequel to “Heartspark Dollarsign”. (Sample track: “Be Careful What You Ask For“. The video is frivolous, but the lyrics are a cautionary tale about adulthood gone wrong and dreams unrequited…pretty much like the entirety of So Much for the Afterglow, but still. The skepticism about redemption in the bridge saddens me, though.)
4. Linkin Park, Living Things. As a wise man once rapped on an obscure soundtrack, “Just lost my street credibility, y’all!” I’ve found that the mere mention of Linkin Park is enough to warrant my shunning from pretty much any musical discussion group Net-wide. I’m aware they were technically “after my time”. I. Don’t. Care. I’ve been monitoring their progression ever since the nü-metal pop of Hybrid Theory first caught my ear and wouldn’t let go. They’ve taken as many missteps as any other enduring group, but I’ve curiously noted the choices they’ve made as they’ve matured, gotten antsy, and dabbled in new sounds. After the half-listenable growing pains of Minutes to Midnight and the pretentious concept-album theatrics of A Thousand Suns, their newest album is not quite a comeback, but an improved exploration of some mellow soundscapes, a refining of their burgeoning save-the-world earnestness, more opportunities for Mike to work his old-school-rap sound, and just a few forays into Chester’s old screamo motif. (Sample track: “Lost in the Echo“, which I consider a cut above the first official single, “Burn It Down”.)
3. Bob Mould, Silver Age. One of my all-time favorite guitarists finally stopped acting his age and remembered how to rock, after rediscovering his groove while working with the Foo Fighters on their 2011 album. Mould sounds livelier than ever and mostly set aside his electronica noodling for a few minutes, to my firm thumbs-up. (Best track: “The Descent”, my favorite single of 2012, played on “Repeat” more than any other new track. The full music video, Mould’s first in ages, is embedded below for value-added immediate sharing.)
2. The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten. Magazine reviewers seemed to love them, but they’re among many young bands from the last decade-plus consistently spurned by the Indianapolis radio market, which is elderly and terrible. I gave them a shot and applaud the results, which land somewhere on the spectrum near Bruce Springsteen and the Replacements, both of which occurred to me before I began reading up on them and learned they were indeed direct influences. Old fogies my age will enjoy references to dated concepts such as vinyl singles and the lost art of handwriting, not to mention covers of familiar tunes by Nirvana and Tom Petty. Bonus spirituality alert: band leader Brian Fallon shares my faith! And this is one of the few albums on the list with zero profanities. Budget permitting, I plan to own all their other albums by the end of 2013. (Best track: “Handwritten“.)
1. Owl City, The Midsummer Station. I would argue that Adam Young’s top-40 duet with Carly Rae Jepsen, the ubiquitous summer smash “Good Time”, is the most vapid and disappointing thing he’s ever recorded. I was simultaneously saddened and amused by the reviewer who panned the rest of the album but praised that one song as a worthy standout. I pity the sad, strange world where Bizarro-Me lives. As long as I skip that track on every play-through, the new Owl City album otherwise continues to exemplify his usual brand of inventiveness, cleverness, individuality, and subtle expressions of worship that don’t rely on quoting the same handful of Scripture overused by all the lite-pop retreads that Christian radio vastly favors and plays to death. (Sample track: “Shooting Star“.)
Best Reissue: Sugar, Beaster. Bob Mould commemorated the twentieth anniversary of his second power-pop trio with reissues of their entire four-record catalog, including this six-song EP whose original release sounded muddy and garbled on my old audiocassette copy. The remastered version is still sludgy and ear-grinding at times, but I think it’s with a little more intentionality now. This re-release was packaged together with a remastered Copper Blue (one of my all-time favorite albums, but didn’t sound appreciably different to me this time around) and a bonus disc containing a previously unreleased live performance. As a three-disc set, it was worth the price of admission to me.
Honorable mention must be made of one album: I did listen to all of Japandroids’ Celebration Rock via a much-appreciated online sampling provided gratis a while back by NPR. Its bombastic awesomeness is made entirely of anthems. Unfortunately I made the mistake of adding the CD to the same Amazon order as a novel that wasn’t scheduled for release till last week, so it’s been sitting in back-order limbo ever since. Alas, that means it’s disqualified from the main list because I didn’t have it in hand by December 31, 2012. The management respectfully apologizes for the exclusion caused by its own moronic error.
And now, as promised, my favorite single of 2012, which I played at least four times during the writing of this entry.