[Joe Pelone is the Reviews Editor. Blame him for this mess.]
SNAKES ARE CHARMED
2012 has been too good to me, and Punknews was (sometimes) a part of that. Against my better judgement, I still loves ya, Org. For all the snarky comments and questionable musical choices, it’s been a blast serving as Reviews Editor (along with getting married, starting a family, and moving up in a company that I believe in over at my “real” job). Some of the nicest folks I met this year were because of this site, and that’s something I appreciate greatly. I know some detractors want to get all scene police on us, and if I were a little younger I might engage more, but honestly, all you need to know is summed up by this X lyric: “We’re having much more fun.” Now let’s talk records.
Every time I think I’m done with pop-punk, I realize that pop-punk isn’t done with me. Do you people realize that Teenage Bottlerocket might yet best the Ramones’ discography? This is dawning of a new era shit right here.
On the Impossible Past bums me out. It’s a concept record about not getting the girl and drinking too much. Me, I got the girl, and she doesn’t let me drink enough. But the Menzingers remain, as always, my boys, and I cannot deny the huge hooks ‘n’ guitars that power this record.
Here’s a novel concept: Write a bunch of catchy rock songs and develop the chops to back them up. Luther is a throwback to early ’90s alt acts like the Lemonheads. Coincidentally, I love the Lemonheads, so you can imagine my sheer, unadulterated glee when Let’s Get You Somewhere Else proceeded to make with the hits.
2012 was the year I obsessed over Bob Mould. Loved his autobiography. Loved the Sugar reissues. I even finally picked up Hüsker Dü’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories (and liked it). But while I’ve enjoyed exploring his past, I’m quite content to sit with Mould in the present. Silver Age is a rip-rocking good time. Perfectly timed with the Sugar reissues, it finds the hardcore/alternative veteran is still very much kicking out the jams. Please don’t ever stop.
Marissa Paternoster, you are my guitar goddess, and I am so glad your band’s latest record highlights that. I love the shredding and the pounding and the roaring. You are P.J. Harvey. You are Jimi Hendrix. You are a jet engine thundering overhead. Other Guys in the Band, you’re cool too.
Swearin': Swearin' [12-inch]
I missed the boat on P.S. Eliot, and I still haven’t heard Waxahatchee. But I back Swearin’ hard. Writing my review for the record actually took twice as long as normal because I kept drifting off into it sweet indie rock vibes. Recalling bands like that dog, the Rentals and the Breeders, Swearin’ is all about warm hooks and lo-fi rockin’.
OFF! is my favorite Keith Morris release since Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown. Dude is still pissed off, and he’s got the band to back up his anger. I consider all of the albums on this list to be filler-free, but when you get as a bare bones/bone-breaking as OFF!, that description means something else. There are tons of angry hardcore bands doing this style, and critics have been right to question OFF! getting the stamp of approval from hipster tastemakers. That said, they’re also wrong for questioning fucking OFF!, ya dig?
Even when he’s just tossing off songs about eating crackers and piss takes how he may/may not miss Meg White, Jack White is still a compelling rock ‘n’ roll songwriter and performer. I always wince when people get called Dylanesque, but the way White mixes truth and bullshit on his first solo record can’t go by any other name.
Snakes For the Divine was solid, but High on Fire cranked up the sludge and the sweetness a couple notches on follow-up De Vermis Mysteriis. More room to jam, more room to lay down the noise, more room to just be awesome. While the divide between HoF and Sleep shrank this time around, I ain’t complaining.
Did Deftones just write another White Pony, a.k.a. my favorite Deftones record? Sure, why not. As sad as it sounds, Chi Cheng’s health problems have given the band a new focus; they haven’t been this productive since the ’90s. Koi No Yokan goes way more metalgaze than Diamond Eyes, but rallies enough aggression to still satisfy all needs. RIYL the Cure’s Disintegration and Quicksand’s Slip in equal measures.
A more consistent record than All Eternals Deck, Transcendental Youth finds John Darnielle still on a hot streak. He’s also still very much in love with desperate people at their worst, but hey, it makes for compelling storytelling.
“Fun” indie bands sometimes get pigeonholed and die, but Fang Island managed to keep the good vibes going without ripping themselves off on Major. A little more musically diverse and vocally driven, it’s an enthusiastic romper stomper on par with the group’s older work. And it’s hella-fun to witness live.
Chan Marshall kind of went crazy for a little bit there, right? But man did she rally hard. Cut through her shenanigans, and Sun turns out to be yet another stunning record from Cat Power, even if it totally reboots her sonic style in favor of early ’80s Joni Mitchell with a dance beat fixation. Damn girl, where ya been? How can I get there?
Considering I thought they’d broken up, forgetters gave me the most surprising album of 2012 by default. Also surprising: the record rips. Pulling in psych/garage rock and the occasional dance-punk beat, forgetters is an idiosyncratic record. That it also recalls a rawer Jets to Brazil at times simply makes it more enticing. I have an aversion to band tattoos, as the older I get, the more heroes I manage fall out with. But every year, I get a little madder at myself for not getting a Jawbreaker f-cross tat already, because Blake Schwarzenbach just keeps blowing my mind.
I grew up, perhaps a bit too painfully at times, with the Get Up Kids. When they emerged as a credible indie band last year just as I transitioned from man-child to straight up man, it meant a lot. For frontman Matt Pryor to then turn around and drop this intimate, acoustic, insanely catchy solo record right after that is just mind-blowing. After the layered There Are Rules, May Day is a refreshingly stripped down reset. Just to spell it out: The guy who wrote Something to Write Home About is just now really hitting his stride.
Usually once I review a record, I put it away to focus on more new music, but something weird happened after I reviewed Half Blood: I couldn’t stop returning to it. Part metal, part Americana psych folk, Half Blood soundtracked so many nights at home and on the road. I fell in love with a few metal bands this year; the atmospheric touches of Alcest and Horseback are the ones I value most.
Welp, I did not see that coming. Somehow, Springsteen rallied back and made his most cathartic album since The Rising (2002)…and his best album since quite possibly Nebraska (1982). Wrecking Ball has some of his most rocking tunes in quite some time, like “Death to My Hometown” and the emotional title track. There’s a strong folk influence on “Shackled and Drawn” and “We Are Alive.” And that rap song, “Rocky Ground?” Actually one of album’s highlights. This deep into his career, you wouldn’t think Springsteen would experiment with electronic and hip-hop music, let alone successfully. But you’d also be wrong.
Oh man…Torche brought the sweet, sweet sludge this year. I’d like to call shenanigans on sites like Pitchfork for being underwhelmed with this record. Harmonicraft might be the band’s effort yet, continuing the melody of Songs For Singles while honoring the sludge roots of Meanderthal. Screaming “TORCHE!” at my friends is a perfectly acceptable means of communication, so great is our love.
Considering it’s been banging around my ears since January, Alcest’s Les Voyages de L’Ame technically defines my year more than any other album on this list. French metalgaze/folk/black metal that sings about pixie dreamlands is a tough sell, but mastermind Neige has combined all of these elements into a record that has consistently taken over me. This and Horseback were my ultimate headphone albums, droning over and through me as I traveled around the U.S. Anytime I needed to disconnect, this record took me away.
2012 was a year of intense ups and downs for Baroness. The band is pretty much on pause while they recover from a bus accident that almost certainly should have killed them, but they also dropped the best album of their career. Yellow & Green is easily the record I was most eager to hear this year. Staff writer Tori Pederson and I geeked out when Relapse sent us the promo. When I came back to Pennsylvania from California and found my deluxe edition sitting on my stoop at like 3 a.m., I threw that shit in my car stereo and blazed on over to Wawa, screaming the words to “Take My Bones” the whole time.
The rationale artists give for double albums is that they can create something for everyone. Baroness is one of the few bands to actually pull that off. Yellow’s first half is a series of twisting, jammed out ragers, recalling the anthemic shift the band took on Blue Record while pushing that sound further. Green takes things to a more ethereal place, but it still throws in some mighty catchy tunes. It sucks they only got to tease the record in Philly by opening for Meshuggah, because I need to white guy dance all over the place to these tunes. No other band took bigger risks than Baroness in 2012, and no other band has reaped such massive rewards.
It’s like the sequel to the Lemuria/Ergs! split that stole America’s heart!
Shoppers / Panzram: Split [7-inch]
IFB Records / Feeble Minds
It feels like just as I was getting to know Shoppers, I had to say goodbye. So it goes. They left us with this pretty neat-o lo-fi shredder of a split, a nice coda for their amazing full-length from last year.
St. Vincent’s full-length with David Byrne just reminded me that St. Vincent is in her prime right now. Krokodil hammers that home; here are some more dissonant, yearning, sexually devastating tunes with a post-punk rage.
Bear Trap PR sends us some of the best underground bands; now they’re cutting out the middleman as Tiny Engines and just putting out the best records instead. Restorations have always held our attention, but in two songs they effectively reinvent themselves as catchy Gaslight Anthem song-slingers.
Look, I’m just glad they’re back, OK? That they would take on Arizona’s immigration issues (something near and dear to me), and do it with one of the best songs in their admittedly brief canon just makes the reunion that much better. I forgot how awesome Conor Oberst is when he’s politically pissed off.
Dum Dum Girls keep getting better. Their EPs in particular have shown a stellar cohesion each time. End of Daze finds the group going more ethereal, only breaking free of the darkness in time for closer “Season in Hell.” This year they beat the Raveonettes at their own game.
While I've always been a fan, 2012 was the year I really started exploring Bob Mould's discography, and these Sugar reissues came at the perfect time for me. Loud 'n' poppy in equal measures, Sugar is something of a legend.