Best of 2012 – Part 1 January 9, 2013Posted by Matt in Best of 2012.
Tags: best of 2012, Cory Branan, Fun., Green Day, JEFF the Brotherhood, Lost in the Trees, music, Paul Thorn, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Soundgarden, Titus Andronicus, Ty Segall Band
Life is a crazy thing. At times things can seem to be going smooth and easy like a sports car on cruise control, at times the sun is high and the wind is in your hair and all seems right with the world. But all peace is temporary. All places of solace are eventually bulldozed to install a parking lot.
2012 was tumultous year for me personally, one filled with heartache and the occasional triumph, all of which were tied together by the beloved music I fill my senses with each and every day. By my last count, I listened to about 100 new albums over the course of 12 months. Some were better than others, some were good, some are destined to be classics, but overall it was another very good year for music. These are 50 my favorites.
50. Green Day – Uno! / Dos! / Tres!
I’ve been a fan of Green Day since they first burst onto the scene with 1994’s Dookie, a breakthrough work of catchy, punkish pop about teenage angst and self-gratification. In the 2000’s, they took the music world by storm with two huge concept albums, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, both of which rank among the best of the decade and set the band up as the unlikely rock opera heirs of The Who. Though I’ve enjoyed the band for years, and had the chance to see them in an insane concert back in 1999 or so, I approached these latest releases, a trilogy of albums within just a few months of each other, with great trepidation. It turns out my unease was a fair assessment of the direction the band had taken. Each of the three works has some great songs, but these are far outnumbered by unmemorable filler. “Nuclear Family,” the song that kicks off Uno! is a classic burst of Green Day, but when Billie Joe Armstrong sings “Like a nuclear bomb and it won’t be long ‘til I detonate,” it takes on a shade of reality with his recent outburst and subsequent entry into a program for addiction. I find the band at their most interesting on songs that swerve away from their normal formula, like “Nightlife,” with guest vocals by rapper Lady Cobra. Overall, the collection is decent, but if the best tracks had been culled into one album, it would have been outstanding.
49. JEFF the Brotherhood – Exotic Nights
Nashville guitar-drums duo JEFF the Brotherhood, comprised of brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall, may have created the ideal summer album of 2012 in the Dan Auerbach-produced Exotic Nights. With a sound reeking of Weezer’s Blue Album era-guitar, weed, and cheap beer all being blasted through the thick haze and heat of summer in the south, their music evokes the frivolity of youth and blowout house parties and times to be talked about for years to come. When Jake opens the album with “I want a place where I can smoke meats. Where I can drink and swim in the creek,” over an eardrum-bursting fuzzy guitar, you know you are in for a fun ride. It’s songs like “Six Pack” (“Let’s load the car up / I got a bag of ice / I got a six pack / And I don’t wanna go back”) that bring back fond memories of those endless, sweat-drenched summer nights.
48. Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Grifter’s Hymnal
The 65 year old Ray Wylie Hubbard, perhaps best known for penning “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” has been in the business a long time, lurking just below the radar for more than four decades while influencing untold numbers of Texas singer-songwriters. This latest release shows that the aging outlaw still has quite a bit left in the tank and a seemingly infinite number of pearls of wisdom for following generations. Notable lines abound in songs like “Lazarus” (“At least we ain’t Lazarus / And have to think twice about dyin’) and in “Coricidin Bottle” (“If you ever get to heaven say ‘Woo, thank you!” / If you ever get scared say the 23rd Psalm”). But the highlight of the album comes in the autobiographical “Mother Blues” where Hubbard tells of being a young man who only wanted a “gold plated Les Paul and a stripper girlfriend.” Good stuff.
47. Cory Branan – MUTT
I had heard of Cory Branan before he was name-dropped in a song by one of my favorite bands, Lucero, but it was after that quick reference that I started to pay attention to the work of this great Memphis singer-songwriter. Branan shows a diverse set of influences as he deftly transitions between styles, from the Tom Waits-esque “The Snowman,” to “Bad Man,” with its E Street Band piano riff and vocal styling of Tom Petty, the Mellencamp-like summer jam “Circa Summer 80 Somethin,” (with one of the best lines of year “You were dancing barefoot on the picnic table and dammit girl, truly goddamn it girl, truly goddamn it girl, truly goddamn”). The centerpiece of the album, though, is the great “Survivor Blues,” a tune that takes a darker look at the “Born to Run,” escapist mythology, with the refrain of “What didn’t kill you / Will make you wish you died,” ringing out as the stark voice of realism. It’s a very good album from an artist who stands as a musical treasure of this city.
46. Paul Thorn – What the Hell is Going On?
The state of Mississippi has a long and rich musical history steeped in the blues, from Delta bluesmen mourning their plight in life to the more groove-oriented sound of the hill country. Tupelo-raised Paul Thorn carries on this tradition, mixing elements of blues guitar with riff rock, to create an instantly listenable and danceable concoction. As a live act he regularly tells stories and jokes in his slow, deeply-accented voice in between songs, proving himself to be both a formidable guitarist and entertainer. This collection of relatively obscure covers is dingy and dirty and exudes his outsized personality in such a way that he makes every song seem as though they are his own. “Snake Farm” employs a dirty, Southern rock riff while Thorn tells about a snake farm that, “Sure sounds nasty,” affirms the suspicion by saying it “pretty much is.” Other highlights include “Blue Mountain Bridge” which tells the story of Stone Fox Dan, a marijuana dealer who Blue Mountain Hawk finds with his woman and gives this gospel-inflected set of instructions, “Take him on down below the Blue Mountain Bridge / Tie his hands and throw him in the river / You might as well give him his farewell party tonight. / He said, knock him in the head, he’s better off dead / Break his arms and throw him in the river / If anybody asks, just tell ‘em he committed suicide.”
45. Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs
Written after the suicide of vocalist Ari Picker’s mother, this work blends gorgeous orchestration with haunting morbidity. It is beautiful and haunting and ultimately life-affirming, an album that will stick with you long after the final chords. It is not an easy listen by any means, Picker fills each song with so much gut-wrenching honesty, his own form of catharsis, that you can’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable, but in the end that’s what true art is supposed to do. In the opener “Neither Here Nor There,” when he delicately sings, “Oh look in a golden light / After the sun burns out / Loneliness you’re haunting me,” you physically feel his pain burrowing its way into your heart and soul, tearing away the places where they hide. In standout track “The Dead Bird is Beautiful,” he almost seems to sigh the words, “I’ll carry her, but I’ll always have her eyes,” and you can almost picture him looking in a mirror and seeing those, his mother’s eyes, staring back at him. Perhaps most fitting, the album closer, “Vines,” ends with questions, “Am I hopeless? I trust you. But where are we walking to?” It’s not an easy listen by any means, but Lost in the Trees have crafted a brilliant, beautiful work about human mortality and grief.
44. Soundgarden – King Animal
“You can’t go home / I swear you never can,” Chris Cornell belts out in an unmistakable voice that provides so much comfort to those of us who came of age in those halcyon days of the 90’s. Crunching guitars, plodding bass lines, high volumes: this is the music of my generation and here it is, returning in all its flannel-clad glory. It has been sixteen years since their last release of original material, but the band picks right back up again with this collection of dirty, grungy rock tunes that will almost make us thirty-something fans from 20 years ago want to jump back in the mosh pit. Kim Thayil’s guitar pumps out heavily distorted, chugging riffs like few others, with Cornell’s soaring, eardrum-piercing vocals leading the way. It’s a strong return to form for the band, particularly on the nostalgic opener “Been Away Too Long,” and the heavy “Blood on the Valley Floor.”
43. Titus Andronicus – Local Business
New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus is not your average punk band. I first came into contact with their music on their 2010 album, The Monitor, with its utterly pessimistic view of modern American life as told through the lens of a Civil War travel story. It was loud, bleak, and absolutely brilliant. Their new album eschews the narrative structure of their previous release and instead turns its focus to the disaffected youth of America, the angst-driven Millennials discovering that the adult world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The opener, “Ecce Homo,” kicks off with a nihilistic line of self-discovery, “Ok, I think by now we’ve established that everything is inherently worthless / And there is nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose,” but instead of being delivered in a depressing, suicidal sort of way, vocalist Patrick Stickles is crying out with the conviction of one struggling to find their place in the emptiness of the American dream. Stickles lays his problems bare for the world to see, particularly on songs like the 8 minute “My Eating Disorder,” about, you guessed it, his suffering from an eating disorder. In that confessional work, his refrain, “I know the world’s a scary place / That’s why I hid behind a hairy face,” resonates. It speaks to those plodding through life, lonely and frightened, looking for somewhere to belong. Yes, Titus Andronicus have set a new standard for the medium of punk rock.
42. Fun. – Some Nights
Come on, you know you like it. With catchy, unavoidable choruses, and vocalist Nate Ruess’s channeling of Freddy Mercury, the band has created a power pop phenomena this year. One of the more interesting aspects of the band, however, is that, despite the band’s name and the singalong nature of the songs, their lyrics are often anything but fun. The title track has a sense of resignation, as if they must make the music because that is all they know to do, and that they must do it, even though they “try twice as hard I’m half as liked.” They’re pleading for something, for a sense of meaning amidst the chaos when he sings, “Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for / What do I stand for? / What do I stand for? / Most nights, I don’t know anymore.” Between that and the song, “We are Young,” fun. has created an album of generational anthems for the Millennials and whoever comes next, and luckily some of us stodgy Generation-Xers can still enjoy it as well.
41. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
Ty Segall is, without a doubt, the most prolific artist on this year’s list, having released three full length albums in 2012 to go along with the numerous others he has recorded since his debut in 2008, but I regret to say that Slaughterhouse was my introduction to him. Segall resurrects the spirit of garage rock, with Stooges-like punk, prevalent guitar noise, and an underlying pop spirit that holds it all together. The album kicks off with “Death,” a feedback-laden blast that evolves into chanted lyrics (“Eye of the eye / Eye of the queen / Eye of the king”) like a bunch of demented monks, before turning into a chaotic scream accompanied by loud, distorted guitars. As the album progresses, melodies and crunching riffs intertwine into a thoroughly enjoyable whole, one that will no doubt placate any fan of loud, melodic garage punk. The aptly titled final track, “Fuzz War,” is a 10 minute barrage of chaos and noise, one that both closes this collection and leaves the listener hungry for more. I know I’m already anticipating the next one.
To be continued…
A Playlist for the Apocalypse May 20, 2011Posted by Matt in music, top ten.
Tags: AC/DC, Apocalypse music, Beck, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, end of the world, Hayes Carll, John Prine, Johnny Cash, May 21, Nirvana, Oasis, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, playlist, Prince, Radiohead, Soundgarden
My friend Susan gave me an idea today when she posted R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” on my Facebook wall in celebration of the global apocalypse scheduled for tomorrow (Check your local listings). I think we need a good playlist to celebrate our last day on earth. Here are some choices from my iPod.
10. Hayes Carll – She Left Me For JesusIt’s time for those last minute conversions and this is the perfect song for it.
9. Beck – Earthquake WeatherAccording to the apocalyptic prognosticators, we can expect a global earthquake tomorrow that should reach us around 6:00 pm. I think we should dance to Beck.
8. Prince – Sign O’ the TimesYes, we should have been looking for the signs, I know, I know…
7. Radiohead – How to Disappear CompletelyWell, that is what happens in the rapture, right? Cars will veer off the road unattended and suddenly unpiloted planes will crash and burn. Well, either that or it will just get a little more pleasant for the rest of us.
6. Pearl Jam – Given to FlyThen again, maybe we’ll actually see people ascend bodily into heaven. That would be much cooler.
5. Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around / Metallica – The Four HorsemenYeah, worldwide destruction is what’s in store for those of us left behind. At least we have some diverse music choices dealing with it.
4. Soundgarden – Black Hole SunThe sun will turn into a black hole? I think they’re reading of Revelation may be a little off.
2. John Prine – Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven AnymoreMaybe extreme patriotism isn’t the best way after all…
Most likely, though, I think this song will be appropriate for those actually expecting the world the end tomorrow.
Bob Marley – Waiting in Vain
What songs would you put on the End of the World Playlist?
Sound of a Generation – pt.3 July 11, 2008Posted by Matt in Sound of a Generation.
Tags: grunge, music, Screaming Trees, Sound of a Generation, Soundgarden
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In addition to the three bands previously mentioned, there was another that helped the Seattle music scene burst forth from its cloud-enshrouded home – Soundgarden. Chris Cornell’s band had existed since the mid-80’s, churning out heavy Sabbath-like riffs underneath his octave-stretching vocals. Though they seemed to lose their focus towards the end of their years together, 1991’s “Badmotorfinger” is a classic album from the grunge era.
There were several other bands that reached some level of popularity in the early 90’s as well, though none reached the same heights of commercial success as the four bands we have looked at over the past two weeks. Another favorite song of mine from that time is this one by the Screaming Trees, a band that never came to be a household name, but who put out this great tune from the Singles soundtrack.