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Best of 2012 – Part 2 January 9, 2013

Posted by Matt in Uncategorized.

In case you missed part one, you can see it here.

jimmy cliff

40.  Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe

2012 was a fruitful year for many of music’s elder statesmen, with excellent albums challenging their tuneful descendants in critical acclaim, a task which 68 year old soul singer Bobby Womack performed quite well on this, his first work of original material in 18 years. The Bravest Man in the Universe finds Womack teaming with Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame, to create a work that deftly combines his wailing voice with a bumping bass and samples, making something wholly modern and timeless.  Songs like “Please Forgive My Heart” are cathartic and beautiful (“The dawn is a silent witness / To the blindness of the night / And we see our reflection so clear / In the blush of the morning light”), and the will haunt you long after the album ends. Given Womack’s recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, the confessional nature of this work takes on a whole new level of meaning, as if he is looking for some bit of redemption before his mind is lost to the ravages of the disease.


39.  Calexico – Algiers

Tucson duo Calexico have been producing some interesting and excellent alt-country with a southwestern edge, a combination of styles much like the enmeshing cultures of their Arizona home, for more than fifteen years now.  Their musicianship has always been and continues to be excellent, a trait particularly seen on the instrumental title track, with Spanish guitar and horns and a beat just quick enough for dancing.  The song “Maybe on Monday” evokes images of a windswept desert as the end of love, as vocalist Joey Burns sings, “Woke up on Monday and wrote you a love song, wrote you a love song / Well the pen stopped and the paper flew out the window / And the notes rang down the road.”


38.  Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables

Todd Snider has been spinning tales, from absurd to angry, for nearly 20 years, but it was 2004’s East Nashville Skyline that opened up a new chapter in his career, one that took on the mantle of John Prine and others as humorist-in-chief among songwriters.  Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables is one of his stronger albums from beginning-to-end.  It’s a work that takes aim at corporations and greed, while acting as a veritable anthem for the Occupy movement.  With its repeated refrain of “Good things happen to bad people,” and story of an Arkansas public school teacher who loses his retirement at the hands of Wall Street, “New York Banker” is a standout track that deserves to be heard.  In the opening track “In the Beginning,” Snider gives his take on religion, particularly the prosperity gospel, ending with the conclusion, “With that we rolled into the future / And ain’t it a son of a bitch / To think that we still need religion / To keep the poor from killing the rich.” This is great stuff from one of the best bards of our generation.


37.  Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet on Sky

It’s no secret that I love the music of the early 90’s, those halcyon days of my adolescence when flannel and loud guitars ruled the world, so it was with great joy that I saw so many of those bands from that era release excellent albums in 2012, including this one by J Mascis’ long-running band.  On their tenth full-length release, Dinosaur Jr. retain their patented fuzzed-out guitars and Mascis’ well-worn, groaning vocals, employing both to their full effect, displaying a band not content to wallow in nostalgia but intent on moving forward into this brave new world of music.  The band’s ability to pull beauty from the most deafening of chaos is almost unparalleled.  Like the best of their catalog, the lyrical simplicity of tunes like “Watch the Corners” (Can I run, but you’ll be there / Disappear it’s never fair / It’s like a stare) are given extra emotional lift by Mascis’ weary vocals woven into the cathartic release that only music straining the speakers with a swell of volume can.


36.  Aesop Rock – Skelethon

In the world of rap and hip-hop, Aesop Rock is something of an anomaly.  While there is certainly nothing wrong with the mindless, hedonistic fun or the violent nihilism found in much of the genre (and every genre of music for that matter), it is refreshing when something unique appears, something that can excite the senses and tickle the brain in a way that others fail to do.  Aesop Rock is a poet, one full of abstractions and metaphors, one that may have you reaching for both the lyric sheet and a thesaurus.  He establishes his geek cred in the opener “Leisureforce” with lyrics like “Abaddon threshold, flash forged in the galley / With undead orcs pulling oars through the algae” and “Raise up the bridge, lower the portcullis / Rain forks into mutton, no abort button.”  This isn’t top 40 hip-hop.  Also, how can you not like the fact that he has a song called “Dokken Rules”?  That should be enough to make you check this album out in itself.


35.  The Flaming Lips – The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends

A new release from The Flaming Lips is always a weird and wonderful occasion full of surprises and eardrum-bursting noise.  It is a time not to be missed by those who have an ear for such things.  This release is a collection of collaborations with a wide variety of artists from trashy pop queen Ke$ha to indie darling Bon Iver to R&B songstress Erykah Badu to the venerable Yoko Ono.  It is a bit uneven at times, but still a definite must-hear for fans.  Album opener “2012 (You Must Be Upgraded), featuring Ke$ha and Biz Markie, blasts off in normal Lips fashion with a noisy guitar and a cacophony of sounds.  This leads into “Ashes in the Air,” their team-up with Bon Iver , who has now gone from singing simple songs about heartache in a remote cabin to a slowed-down psychedelic number about being chased by robot dogs.  The highlight of the collection has to be their creeping, sensual version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” with Badu, who was later ably replaced by Amanda Palmer following a disagreement over the very NSFW video for the cover.  Overall, it is a good collection and certainly worth a listen for those disposed to being fans of the Lips.


34.  Father John Misty – Fear Fun

It’s not often that the drummer of a successful band releases a solo album.  It’s even less probable that this solo album is very good, much less one of the better albums of the past year.  Yet, Father John Misty, former drummer for indie folk outfit Fleet Foxes, has done just that, producing a wonderful piece of literate Americana that stands nearly to level of his former band.  It kicks off with the melancholic, acoustic track “Funtimes in Babylon,” in which he almost resignedly, perhaps regretfully, says, “Look out Hollywood, here I come.”  My favorite track is probably “I’m Writing a Novel,” with memorable lyrics like “Heidegger and Sartre, drinking poppy tea / I could’ve sworn last night I passed out in my van and these guys are pouring one for me.”  It’s upbeat at times, interesting and introspective at others, and excellent throughout, from beginning to end.


33.  Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania

The 1990’s nostalgia ran rampant this year, and nowhere was it done better than at the hands of the megalomaniacal genius of that era, Billy Corgan.  After a trio of stellar albums (Gish, Siamese Dream, and Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness), the Pumpkins’ star faded as their creativity waned, leaving fans like myself disappointed and in want of those sonic anthems of times past.  I remembered fondly the two times I saw them, on the Siamese and Mellon Collie tours, and occasionally longed for a return of the band I loved as a teenager.  When they reformed a few years ago, I was apprehensive and wondering what Corgan had in store for us and after hearing 2007’s mediocre Zeitgeist, I sighed and put them away again.  Oceania, though, is a different story.  I first listened to it on Spotify, a faint glimmer of hope still present, and immediately the classic, sonically-driven sound of Corgan’s guitar cut to the core of my being in a way that it hadn’t since “Cherub Rock” almost 20 years before.  The Smashing Pumpkins are back, rocking and brooding like it is 1993 all over again, and I couldn’t be happier.


32.  Big Boi – Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors

On his second solo helping following the hiatus of his normal gig with Outkast, 37 year old Big Boi throws down rhymes and beats with the best in the hip-hop world, affirming his (and, by extension, Outkast’s) place on top of the Southern rap world.  It’s a funky and fun ride, employing synth-pop lines from indie group Phantogram on “Lines,” with states his modus operandi, saying, “Cause man gave us laws and God gave us time / It’s the art of storytelling and I’m only telling mine.”  The memorable “Shoes for Running” uses a chorus from indie band Wavves as Big Boi spits out lyrics like few others can.  It’s a very good album, perhaps not as stellar as his first solo effort, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, but certainly one that will hold over fans like me until he and Andre 3000 team up again.


31.  Jimmy Cliff – Rebirth

Before Bob Marley became the face of reggae music, there was the man who first helped to popularize the genre, Jimmy Cliff.  It was Cliff’s starring turn in the 1972 reggae film The Harder They Come that first opened the door to the world outside of Jamaica and though he was soon eclipsed by the stardom of Marley, he has continued to make music for the past 40 years.  This latest outing was helmed by unlikely producer Tim Armstrong, the frontman of punk band Rancid, and under his direction, Cliff has found, as the title suggests, a rebirth.  Two of the standout tracks are covers, The Clash’s apocalyptic “Guns of Brixton” and Rancid’s “Ruby Soho,” both of which take on new life as Cliff squeezes out new perspectives and sounds that the original artists probably never imagined.  The highlight of the album, in my opinion, is “Reggae Music,” which serves as an abbreviated history of the musical form across Cliff’s life, ending with “Now it’s 2012 and reggae music is still here / And the voice of the people everywhere / Whenever there is injustice or tyranny reggae music is there / Standing up for the rights and the true life.”  There isn’t much more that one can hope.

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