[Tori Pederson is a Staff Reviewer and the truest metalhead we got.]
2012 was my first full calendar year as a staffer here at the Org. Spending most of my time in northern Idaho didn’t afford me many show-going opportunities this year, but on the opposite side of that coin, I had plenty of time to listen to and review tons of new music, and this was a pretty great year for that. Our supreme overlord Joe Pelone has limited us to listing just 20 albums, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the great releases this year from Japandroids, the Men, Melvins Lite, Titus Andronicus, the Mountain Goats, Dinosaur Jr, Hostage Calm, Converge, Pig Destroyer, Between the Buried and Me, High On Fire, Every Time I Die, Gojira, Lucero, La Sera, Mixtapes, Turbonegro, Kendrick Lamar and Title Fight. I loved all those records, but I loved these a little more.
This record is a grower. I enjoyed Infinity Overhead well enough when it was released, but as the weather got colder and I spent more time with it, I grew to truly love it. “Cold Company” is a jaw-dropper.
Yes, the lo-fi charm of their earlier work is gone, but the songwriting is still sharp as a tack, and Bethany Cosentino’s vocals are more confident than ever. “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To?” may very well be the strongest song Best Coast have penned to date.
I feel like Matt & Kim should be a guilty pleasure for me, but their huge hooks and fun-loving attitude are so infectious that I can’t help but love them in a very genuine, completely un-ironic fashion. They don’t stray too far from the path they took on Sidewalks, but with tunes as fun as these, it’s a non-issue. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood when you’re listening to this record.
Much like their labelmates in Fucked Up did last year with David Comes to Life, Ceremony have crafted a record that both challenges and expands the bounds of hardcore; albeit in a very different way. The cleaner vocals and post-punk tinges that mark Zoo might be a hard pill for some longtime fans to swallow, but the group’s progression never feels forced. I can’t wait to hear what they go from here.
After listening to Title Fight’s Floral Green, and appreciating the slower atmospheric tracks like “Head in the Ceiling Fan” and “In Between,” I found myself wishing they’d make a whole album in that style. Basement made that album. I can’t wait to see this band li… what? They did? Awww.
The Sword continues their sludge metal evolution, coming off as a really, really heavy version of Clutch on much of Apocryphon. There’s a few left turns as well, such as “Hawks & Doves,” with a huge rock sound suggesting a lost Shout at the Devil b-side. It’s an unpopular opinion, but I feel the Sword have improved with each release.
I never spent much time with the Hives’ catalog. I was more of a White Stripes guy during the early 2000s garage rock boom. However, Greg Simpson’s glowing 10/10 review of Lex Hives prompted me to check it out and I’m glad I did. This record is a non-stop party that feels retro and modern at the same time.
It was worth the wait. With Exister Hot Water Music pick right back up where they left off with The New What Next, adding in some arena-sized Foo Fighters hooks and some of the folksy elements that have been Chuck Ragan’s bread and butter since their hiatus began all those years ago to great success. This record should be dominating rock radio.
I’ve long been a huge fan all of all of Brendan Kelly’s projects (my Punknews name comes from the Broadways song, although I love that it’s a Simpsons reference, as well) and this may be his most adventurous work yet. Beex tries all kinds of new things here, and for the most part they work splendidly. It’s not a new Lawrence Arms record, but it’s totally quenching my thirst in the meantime.
Jenny Owen Youngs: An Unwavering Band of Light
Jenny Owen Youngs is on a hot streak, and she’s only improving with every release. I don’t know how tracks like “Love For Long,” “Your Apartment” and “Already Gone” haven’t made her a superstar. The bulk of this record comes off like a high-energy female-fronted Fake Problems, and I can’t get enough of it.
I had sky-high expectations for Awkward Breeds and I was not disappointed. The Sidekicks get more interesting with each release. The meditative “1940’s Fighter Jet” is a revelation, and “Baby, Baby” has one of the catchiest choruses I’ve ever heard, even if I can only understand every third word or so from vocalist Steve Ciolek’s mouth.
While I was a huge supporter of the Menzingers early on, my fandom kind of trailed off somewhere around Chamberlain Waits. Ten seconds into grungy opener “Good Things” I was right back on the bandwagon. These fine young gentlemen have stepped up their game in almost every way on this release, most notably in the vocal department. I’ve spent many a late night and long car ride in 2012 singing along to every lyric.
I’m a big enough person to admit that I was wrong, and I was completely wrong about Joyce Manor. I didn’t buy into the hype surrounding the band last year, but something finally clicked, and it clicked hard. I’ve probably listened to their self-titled 2011 full-length more than any other piece of music this year. This record finds them expanding their sound with synths, acoustic guitars, and poppier song structures. Oh, and a cover of “Video Killed the Radio Star,” because why not? The fact that they manage to pull all of this off in less than 15 minutes makes it even more impressive.
I’ve missed this band. “Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume” completely blew me away upon first listen and gave me a feeling I haven’t felt since the first time I heard Brother, Sister back in 2006. It’s sprawling, it’s epic, the spoken/shouted lyrics come so fast it takes a lyric sheet to fully appreciate the gravity of Aaron Weiss’ words. On the other side of the coin, “Cardiff Giant” has a huge, immediately singable chorus that REFUSES to quit. Ten Stories is a consistently great, stylistically diverse album that ranks among the group’s best.
A dark horse emerges. I more or less ignored this album when it was released early on in the year, only to become a casual fan over the next few months, finally reaching the point where I started receiving puzzled looks from strangers and passersby as I screamed the words “I THOUGHT! I WOULD! BE MORE! THAN THIS!” in public.
I’m not fully sold on the idea of Kickstarter. If you’re going to have your fans pay to record your album, you better have something truly special up your sleeve, and Murder By Death really did. They’ve dropped a lot of the alt-country overtones from the last couple full-lengths and made a weird, exciting interesting indie rock record. “Lost River” is indescribably great, and most of the record isn’t far off. This may very well be the group’s best work to date.
I don’t know what it is about this band that makes me love them so much. They’re nowhere near original, and a pretty sizable chunk of their songs sound the same. Still, something in the combination of their loud guitars, Ian Graham’s vocals and a knack for hooks unrivaled in the modern punk community just speaks to me. This record came out in February and I’ve played it at least once a week since then.
Brian Fallon doesn’t know how to write a song I don’t love. Handwritten serves as a greatest hits album of sorts, touching on all their past triumphs (“45” takes me right back to the first time I heard Sink Or Swim) as well as expanding on sonic elements previously only hinted at (the full-blown grunge ballad “Too Much Blood”). There are so many chill-inducing moments on Handwritten from the gospel-tinged bridge in the title track to the best “whoas” this side of Japandroids in “Desire.” Handwritten is another major milestone in an already storied career.
I completely fell in love with Yellow & Green on first listen. It’s rare that a band can completely reinvent themselves without even a trace of awkwardness in the transition. Every experiment here, and there are a lot of them, works on every level. There are remnants of the group’s sludge metal past apparent, but for the most part they are replaced with the three “posts;” post-punk flourishes, angular post-hardcore riffs and soothing instrumental post-rock passages. However, upon hearing the news of their near-tragic bus crash, and knowing that this will be the last music we’re getting from Baroness for a long time, possibly ever, many of these songs took on a new poignancy. Yellow & Green is a masterwork, one of the best rock records in years, and probably for years to come.
I wrestled with whether to put Joyce Manor's new record on my EPs or full-lengths list. Going by my logic, I should probably have had the same debate with this two-song, 40-minute opus, but whatever. Nobody else is doing what Fucked Up does. They're an anomaly, and the "Year Of..." series usually represents their most inventive works. The ambitious Canadians are aiming to take you on a journey with this release, and it's a hell of a ride.
Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room and Brendan Kelly & the Wandering Birds are both great examples of how to do a solo project right. Different enough from their respective main projects to be interesting, but still filled with the trademarks that made us fall in love with their songwriting in the first place. Both projects contribute excellent songs here, just as strong as anything on their full-lengths.
Sitting Army and American Rubicon are two of my favorite punk records of the last half-decade, but Cobra Skulls lost me a bit with their last full-length, Agitations. With the Eagle Eyes 7”, it seems like they're back on the right track, with a dash of Warning-era Green Day thrown in for good measure.
This band sounds like Taylor Swift fronting the Lemonheads or Smoking Popes, and if you don't think that sounds like an awesome combination, you're wrong. This is the direction I wish Lemuria took after Get Better. These six tracks are simply hooks on top of hooks on top of hooks. I'm expecting big things Candy Hearts in the future.