Updated Wed, Dec 19, 2012 12:01 am
Once again, the naysayers predicting that the quantity and quality of pop music releases would deteriorate following the collapse of the 20th century music industry paradigm have been proven hilariously wrong.
In my not-so-humble opinion, we are currently experiencing a second golden age of popular music, the first being that magical decade of 1964-1974.
I’ll do my best to distill what I consider the best of the best (of what I’ve heard) of 2012 into a top 10 or 12 list, but that will require arbitrary categorization of my own devising, and many runners up and equivocations.
1. Best Rerelease and Career Comeback of the Year: Sugar, Copper Blue/Bob Mould, Silver Age: The inventor of melodic hardcore roars back into relevance with the stunningly remastered release of the classic Copper Blue and his latest, entirely unexpected masterpiece, Silver Age.
2. Best Swansong of the Year: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Throw It To The Universe: The best band almost no one has ever heard of or even listened to says farewell, on a very high note. The best thing to come out of Sweden since Aquavit and Abba.
3. Best Improbably Great Release by The World’s Most Dysfunctional Band: The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Auhfeben: God knows where this came from; it sounds nothing like the occasionally brilliant, if shambolic records from Anton Newcombe and his rotating cast of troubled characters. Controlled, ambient, cool wave world music that stands up under repeated listenings.
4. Best Neo-Psychedelic Record Produced by David Fridmann: Tame Impala, Lonerism: Sometimes Dave just lays his Fridmann thing on bands to ill effect (Sleater-Kinney, anyone?). Sometimes it is perfect, like this intoxicating antipodes release.
5. Best Records Whose First Records Were Pretty Good But Whose Sophomore Records Kick Ass: Japandroids, Celebration Rock; Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan; Jeff The Brotherhood, Hypnotic Nights; The xx, Coexist
6. Trend Of The Year: Roots, Americana, Rawk and '70s Revival: The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Leaving Eden; Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls; The Sights, Left Over Right; Zeus, Busting Visions; Mount Carmel, Real Women; Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, Dirty Radio; Shovels and Rope, O’ Be Joyful. These are roots, Americana and rawk records you can play and imagine yourself in another time and place at an awesome party with abandon in your own living room and are essential recordings in any serious collection.
7. Best Record That Combines Great Pop Songs, Impeccable Musicianship, Perfect Record Production, and A Sense of Whimsy: The Astronaut Love Triangle, Space Junk. Good God, Bert Ziggen just keeps serving up the hits, intended for an alternative, mirthful universe in which we all hope we shall live someday. Guaranteed to cheer you up on a rainy day.
8. Best Most Out Of The Blue Reunion Record With By Far The Worst Album Artwork Of The Year: Graham Parker and the Rumour, Three Chords Good. Thanks to the good graces of Judd Apatow and his desire to place '70s pub rock in his soundtracks, we now have this masterful reunion of the best band and singer-songwriter of the Stiff Records era, circa 1979. Just blind your eyes to the unimaginable horror of the rainbow infomercial artwork.
9. Best Jack White Record Of The Year: Jack White, Blunderbuss
10. Best Foreign Language Record Of The Year: Ana Tijoux, La Bala. Sexytime for modern lovers.
And at 11 and 12:
11. Guided By Voices: Class Clown Spots A UFO, Let’s Go Eat The Factory
12. The Mighty Sound of Rock Records of the Year: Hinder, Welcome to the Freakshow; Torche, Harmonicraft; Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind
Oh Yes, and Of Course The Song of The Year: "California" by Delta Spirit
Best of The Rest: And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Lost Songs; Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself; Beachwood Sparks, The Tarnished Gold; Bob Dylan, Tempest; Bowerbirds, The Clearing; Brendan Benson, What Kind Of World; Burial, Kindred; Can, Lost Tapes Boxed Set; Carole King, The Legendary Demos; Cat Power, Sun; The dB’s, Falling Off The Sky; Delta Spirit, Delta Spirit; Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits; Efterklang, Piramida; Electric Light Orchestra, Mr. Blue Sky; Fiona Apple, The Idler Is Wiser Than The Diver Of The Screw And Whipping Chords etc…; The Flaming Lips, The Flaming Lips and Hweady Friends; Foxy Shazam, The Church of Rock and Roll; Fun, Some Nights; Future of the Left, the plot against common sense; Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!; Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, The Lion The Beast The Beat; Great Lake Swimmers, New Wild Everywhere; Green Day, Uno! Dos! Tres!; Grizzly Bear, Shields; Janis Joplin, The Pearl Sessions; Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur; Kelly Hogan, I Like To Keep Myself In Pain; Kylie Minogue, The Abbey Road Sessions; Lambchop, Mr. M; Lee Hazelwood, The LHI Years; The Lost Brothers, The Passing of the the Night; The Mars Volta, Noqtourniquet; The Menzigers, On The Impossible Past; Metric, Synthetica; Minus The Bear, Infinity Overhead; The Mountain Goats, Transcendental Youth; Nada Surf, The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy; Muse, The 2nd Law; Sara Watkins, Sun Midnight Sun; Sea Wolf, Old World Romance; Seth Lakeman, Tales from the Barrelhouse; The Sheepdogs, The Sheepdogs; Silversun Pickups, Neck of the Woods; Smashing Pumpkins, Oceania; Soundgarden, King Animal; Toadies, Play.Rock.Music.; Todd Snider, Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables; Trixie Whitley, The Engine; Ty Seagall Band, Slaughterhouse; The Walkmen, Heaven; The Who, Live at Hull; Yeasayer, Fragrant World
Like I said, it was another great year for pop music.
Eddie Ashworth is an assistant professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies at Ohio University, where he teaches courses in record production and music industry studies. He is also a veteran record producer, engineer and mixer who has worked with artists such as Sublime, Pennywise, Unwritten Law, Slightly Stoopid, Maza Blaska and Athens favorites Mind Fish and Duke Junior & The Smokey Boots.