Record Geek Heaven’s Top 20 Albums of 2012

Thanks to the fact that 2012 was my busiest year ever as a musician, my routine for listening to music changed pretty drastically. As you may or may not have noticed, there were not a lot of posts this year. However, I was still listening to as much stuff as ever, though it was all in little chunks of time, rather than straight on through the year. As a result, RGH’s 2012 list is a little different from previous ones…but I think you all will appreciate it. I have divided the list into four parts to represent what I was listening to the most during the spring, summer, fall and winter. Let’s begin!

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SPRING

1. Field Music
Plumb

2. Ghosty
Ghosty

3. Nada Surf
The Stars
Are Indifferent
To Astronomy

4. Hospitality
Hospitality

5. Cheap Girls
Giant Orange




2012 started out with such a bang, the rest of the year could not live up to itself. The first three albums on the spring list represent some of the best output of their respective bands, and their re-playability is staggering. On their fourth proper album, Field Music finally discover their long sought-after balance of tunefulness and artiness. Musically, Plumb captures the ambition of Brian Wilson’s Smile without touting any sort of heavy handed concept. The Brewis brothers continue to be unmatched as far as performance, with a drum sound that rivals the best Zeppelin recordings and unprecedented guitar tricks. Quite simply, Plumb is 2012’s biggest triumph. Kansas City’s Ghosty have done something similar with their self-titled 3rd album – they have finally found the perfect mix of quirky indie pop and challenging melodies, and combined with bassist Mike Nolte’s pristine production, it is easily their masterwork. Nada Surf is still doing their thing, but they are doing it better than ever. The ten songs on their 6th album make up their most consistent collection to date. Newcomers Hospitality made one of 2012’s finest debuts, combining newfangled indie trends with the songwriting talents of 90’s artists like Juliana Hatfield. And finally, the 3rd full length from Lansing’s Cheap Girls (produced by Tom Gabel – now Laura Jane Grace – of Against Me!) was 2012’s first great testament to infectious, uncomplicated rock and roll – ten pummeling tracks of glorious G/C/D chords, all of which are carried by the exuberance of hopping off the school bus on a warm, sunny afternoon.

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SUMMER

1. Zeus
Busting Visions

2. Redd Kross
Researching the Blues

3. Joyce Manor
Of All Things
I Will Soon
Grow Tired

4. Beach Boys
That’s Why God
Made the Radio

5. Here We Go
Magic

A Different Ship

The second release from retro Canadian rockers Zeus tops the Summer albums list, thanks to their complete disregard of current trends and their obvious obsession with rock music of the 60’s and 70’s. This goes beyond trying to write like their heroes – they try to record like them as well, undergoing dated and painstaking studio tricks to retrace the steps of their musical influences and achieve a glorious result. Redd Kross is the latest old school band to reunite and release an album after a prolonged period – however, they stand out from that crowd for two reasons. First, all the members were in high school when Redd Kross originally formed, so they still have plenty of vitality. Second, it shows – Researching the Blues is their best album, period. Torrance, CA’s Joyce Manor is making pop punk interesting again. Their 9-song, 13-minute release is a surprisingly multi-genre affair that feels like a playful summary of some punk geek’s record collection. The Beach Boys are still The Beach Boys, but That’s Why God Made the Radio is their first legitimately good album in 30 years. The three-song suite at the end (echoes of Smile can be heard) is proof that even if Brian Wilson is mentally charred, that legendary talent still resides within. The third full-length from NYC’s Here We Go Magic (produced by Nigel Godrich of Radiohead fame) seems understated and almost boring during initial listens. In time, however, things within this richly textured and layered album start to pop out like the Bogeyman – a satisfyingly haunting record.

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FALL

1. Sun Kil Moon
Among
the Leaves

2. DIIV
Oshin

3. Blinker the
Star

We Draw Lines

4. Satin Gum
LP2

5. The Soft
Pack

Strapped


The songs on the fifth Sun Kil Moon album are uncomfortably autobiographical in nature, but if you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s really like to be a touring musician, it’s here – love letters, basement squatters, international flights, dead guitar repairmen, gloomy continents, groupies, STDs and all. As always, Mark Kozelek (formerly of Red House Painters) lays all of it out on the table without sugarcoating, and with a voice as hypnotic as ever. DIIV arguably made the year’s best debut, even though their songs are better described as 3-or-4-minute riff studies. They combine a popular indie rock sound (think Real Estate meets The Cure or Stone Roses) with a retro 90’s attitude and style that recalls Nirvana. Remember Blinker the Star? If so, it means you were into underground alt rock circa 1997. We Draw Lines, their fourth album (their debut was released almost 20 years ago), proves their search for the perfect studio sound has not been unsuccessful. Their cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” improves on the original in almost every sense. I can bet you have never heard of Satin Gum, and since these Pittsburgh power-poppers aren’t setting their sights higher than a few hometown shows a year and digital sales, you probably never will again. Enigmatic front man Brian Spekis gives us smart and hooky songwriting that tackles universal subject matter such as Kung Fu, drunk dialing, and Sasquatch hunting. On their sophomore album, San Diego’s The Soft Pack abandon their garage rock tendencies and instead utilize copious dance beats and saxophones. While not as consistent as the debut, Strapped still boasts plenty of hits.

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WINTER

1. Tame Impala
Lonerism

2. Ty Segall
Twins

3. Guided by
Voices

The Bears
for Lunch

4. A.C. Newman
Shut Down
the Streets

5. Father John
Misty

Fear Fun


Though it was released in early 2012, I didn’t make time for Lonerism until I finally bought it in November. I’m glad, since the sequence of the double vinyl makes for a better listening experience. The songs seem complex but are actually pretty minimalistic, an effect aided by the fact that as a recording project, Tame Impala is basically one dude, the very talented Kevin Parker. Similarly, Ty Segall performs the bulk of what can be heard on Twins, and only after repeated listening do the 60’s-styled psych jams reveal themselves to be much more than what appears on the surface. Like Segall, Guided by Voices released three albums in 2012. The first two were wildly inconsistent, but The Bears for Lunch holds up among their best work without treading water in their celebrated past, and features more Tobin Sprout songs per capita than any previous GBV release. Thanks to his subtle hooks and occasionally obtuse melodies, the songs of A.C. Newman usually take a while to sink in. Once they do, though, there is no getting over them, and Shut Down the Streets is no exception. Fear Fun by Father John Misty is another one of those albums released early in the year that fell through the cracks for me until these final months, and it’s a perfect winter record. FJM’s enigmatic charm lies in his blending of Elliott Smith-caliber melodic precision and Dylan-esque delivery, a much-needed evolution of the singer-songwriter formula.

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RGH’S BEST ALBUM OF 2012
Field Music
Plumb

As a musician, I know how enormous and daunting of a task it is to record an album. Rehearsing, memorizing, multi-tracking, hitting the right notes, trying to capture what was in your brain and somehow cement it forever to celluloid (or RAM, or whatever) – and that’s just you figuring your own shit out. Next, you’ll have to coordinate your ideas with others, and it may not gel. The Brewis brothers, the two-man force that is Field Music, laugh in the face of all of this. Not to trivialize their brilliance – there is no way you could nonchalantly make an album like Plumb. It’s just that everything about what Field Music does is so precise, so crafty, and done with such a stream of consciousness, it feels as if the whole process was effortless. In fact, it’s a sort of music that only brothers could make together, one whose nucleus must have originated in early childhood, extended into an awkward and imaginative adolescence, and has now finally found the light at the end of its own tunnel in an adulthood resigned to ambiguity. The longing of songs like “From Hide and Seek to Heartache” (one of the best songs of the year) and “Sorry Again, Mate” suggest a restlessness with everything except creating, and the overall pastiche feel of Plumb is a testament to how much creating these brothers actually do. So many wonderful little ideas are strung together throughout this record, it’s only more of a wonder to think how many didn’t make the final cut, and whether or not we will ever hear those ideas at all. But it’s not a problem either way, as Field Music’s well won’t be running dry any time soon.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

White Fence Family Perfume
Alabama Shakes Boys and Girls
Neil Young and Crazy Horse Psychedelic Pill
Ty Segall and White Fence Hair
Titus Andronicus Local Business
Cardinal Hymns
Motion City Soundtrack Go
Jaill Traps
Lee Ranaldo Between the Times and the Tides
Guided By Voices Let’s Go Eat the Factory
John K. Samson Provincial
California Wives Art History
Jack White Blunderbuss
Ty Segall Band Slaughterhouse
Bahamas Barchords
Nude Beach II
Bad Books II
Bob Mould Silver Age
Ladyhawk No Can Do
Torche Harmonicraft

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7 Responses to “Record Geek Heaven’s Top 20 Albums of 2012”

  1. Amber Says:

    i feel out of the loop as i’ve not heard a lot of new music this year but i love love love both the nada surf (of course) and blinker the star albums you listed. i’ll have to check out the rest!

  2. pplist Says:

    Thank you for the excellent recommendations.

  3. Randall Paske Says:

    I have a little less than half of these, and a few more are already on my wish list, but that still leaves a bunch for me to check out. My favorite album of the year (though I feel hopelessly behind) was probably Maximo Park’s “The National Health.” Did you hear that one?

  4. B-Dog Says:

    Very cool of you to mention Satin Gum, but I just wanted to point out that the band is from Pittsburgh, PA not Detroit, haha.

  5. Lomita Realtor Says:

    Hi friends, how is everything, and what you want to say about this piece of
    writing, in my view its in fact awesome for me.

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