Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 16 Albums of 2012

It's that time of year again. Time for me to write in length about the albums that came out this year that I loved for no one to read.

This year was incredibly frustrating at first when making this list. Partly because for awhile I felt like there were a bunch of albums that I liked but none that really made a huge impact on me. But also because I wound up making two lists, one for this here blog (which was also shared with the Pop Punk / Rock / Alternative / Emo blog), and one for DyingScene. There's a lot of overlap on the two lists (both in albums and my write ups), but the DyingScene one only goes to ten entries, while this one goes to sixteen. My DyingScene list also covers more of the punk albums that I liked from this year, while this list expands outward a bit more. 

Anywho, here's my list of my sixteen favorite albums of 2012:

16. Masked Intruder – Masked Intruder
What a fine pop punk album this is! Masked Intruder is one of the few bands with a gimmick that translates really well into the studio recordings. My biggest problem with this album (re: my only problem with this album) is that five of the thirteen tracks had already been previously released, four of which were released earlier just this year on the First Offense EP and the band’s split with The Turkletons. Despite that, this is still a fantastic bubblegum pop infused with punk album. Not many pop punk bands can get away with putting this much emphasis on the pop element and still be widely accepted in punk circles, but these boys are on to something.

15. Aspiga – Every Last Piece
From the harsh snarls to the fast musicianship to the heart-on-sleeve self deprecation, these guys remind me a lot of Jawbreaker and early(ish) Saves the Day. As I said in my review: “Think 24 Hour Revenge Therapy meets Through Being Cool.” In other words: really good. Every Last Piece is a little on the short side, to the point that I think this might technically be an EP, but isn’t being straight to the point what punk is all about?

14. Hostage Calm – Please Remain Calm
You know those bands that you always read or hear about but you just never remember to check out? Hostage Calm was one of those bands for me. But from the moment I put on Please Remain Calm I became hooked. Their blending of 60’s orchestral pop, 70’s rock anthem verses, and lyrical themes of modern day despair and uncertainty was so weird and off-putting to me at first that I just had to keep listening. Next thing I knew, I was listening to the album every day for three weeks straight.

13. Cheap Girls – Giant Orange
Apathetic college rock makes its return! Ironically, Giant Orange is probably the band’s most energetic album yet, as well as their best. Ian Graham’s vocals still have that kind of bored tone to them, but he’s never sounded better than he does on this album (I think I once described the band as having an unmatched apathetic energy). Laura Jane Grace’s production on the album helps it to sound slick, but still appropriate for a band of their pedigree.

12. The Sidekicks – Awkward Breeds
The Sidekicks have pretty much dropped all pretenses of being a punk band. But you know what? If that means that we get to have an album like Awkward Breeds because of it, then there’s no reason to be upset. It’s like a mix of Pinkerton, Third Eye Blind, and New Miserable Experience for a new generation.   

11. The Evens – The Odds
Arguably more aggressive than the band’s first two albums, The Odds finds The Evens proving that punk rockers can slow down with dignity and grace. Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina play off each other incredibly well, from MacKaye’s Fugazi-esque chops showing off on his baritone guitar and Farina’s oddball drumming style. As vocalists both members also shine, although Farina’s vocal performance in particular stands out. Maybe I just never listened to The Evens or Get Evens as much as I thought I had, but her voice sounds more powerful than ever all throughout The Odds.

10. Various Artists - The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore
Quick, name some bands that immediately come to mind when you think of pop punk in 2012? If you didn’t list any of the bands that appear on this comp, you’re wrong. Handpicked by Lookout Records founder Larry Livermore, the compilation collects 15 of the best modern pop punk bands (and Night Birds) from across North America. To make things even better, each song was written exclusively for this comp, making it the only place you can get these songs (at least until any of the bands put together a rarities collection).

09. Classics of Love – Classics of Love
These days it seems like less and less high school kids talk about Operation Ivy. Do kids still go through their ska-punk phase, or is that not a thing anymore? Either way, it doesn’t matter because Jesse Michaels (and his backing band Hard Girls) just released the best album of his career so far. Classics of Love is a rapid, hard-hitting punk album bordering on the lines of classic hardcore. And there’s kind of some ska on it, but not really.

08. Matt Pryor - May Day
Matt Pryor released his solo debut, Confidence Man, back in 2008. In the four years between then and now, Matt has clearly gone through a lot that has angered him. Musically, May Day is on par with Confidence Man, although in terms of lyrical subject Pryor takes a much darker approach. He’s no longer singing about having his heartbroken emotionally by girls, but Pryor hasn’t been this bitter and angry since the early days of The Get Up Kids. Yeah, that’s how good it is.

07. Brendan Kelly & The Wandering Birds – I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever
I love this whole “frontman going solo” thing that’s been happening in punk, but sometimes it gets a little boring when it’s just a guy and an acoustic guitar. I mean, I love seeing it live, but only so much can be done with that set up in a studio recording. So when a solo project takes on a full band sound, even if the songs will only ever be performed with an acoustic guitar, I think it’s really cool because then it creates something special and new. Just like Dave Hause and Dan Andriano before him, Brendan Kelly has created a collection of songs packed with full band recordings that may never be performed live exactly as they sound on the album. His various singing styles also give I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever even more of a full band feel to it, which is pretty rad to me.

06. The Dopamines – Vices
The Dopamines have done it again. Clocking in at 21 minutes, Vices tones down from the slick sounds of production of 2010’s Expect the Worst, and it comes off as sounding like a much more proper follow up to the band’s self titled debut. Either way, The Dopamines have still crafted an excellent album for those who miss the pop punk of the early 1990’s.

05. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
The punk influences in The Gaslight Anthem’s music have all but vanished since their inception, but in spite of that the band is (oddly) still widely accepted by the punk community. Handwritten is the band’s heaviest album to date (Sink or Swim is their loudest but it’s not really “heavy”… there’s a difference). The guitars are crunchier, the songs aren’t always fixated around 50’s nostalgia, and Maria is nowhere to be found, but at its core Handwritten is still a Gaslight Anthem album.

04. Green Day – ¡Uno! / ¡Dos! / ¡Tré!
After spending the better part of the last decade trying out rock operas and “mature” sounds, Green Day has finally taken things down a notch. Picking up from where they left off with 2000’s Warning, Green Day’s trilogy takes multiple steps back from the over scale grandness of 21st Century Breakdown, resulting in a massive collection of old and new sounds. Between the three discs, ¡Uno! and ¡Tré! are the more “typical” Green Day-sounding albums, taking the huge riffs of the bands rock operas and applying them to 3-minute power pop tunes. ¡Dos! experiments with more straight forward garage riffs more commonly associated with Foxboro Hot Tubs. Of course not every track is a winner (“Oh Love” is big and dumb; “Nightlife” tries its hand at combining dirty rock with rapped verses and loses; “The Forgotten” is another boring, string-laden ballad), but when you’ve got thirty-seven tracks to choose from the few duds aren’t really going to distract much.

03. Teenage Bottlerocket – Freak Out!
Sometimes bands never need to change their sound. Teenage Bottlerocket is one of those bands. Freak Out!, the band’s fifth full length album, follows the exact same formula that the band has been using since their inception. Given that it’s been three years since They Came From the Shadows was released, it would’ve been nice to have 14 entirely new songs instead of 12 new songs and two being recycled from last year’s Mutilate Me EP. But beggars can’t be choosers, right? And when the songs are this good, it doesn’t really matter.

02. Mixtapes – Even on the Worst Nights
There’s absolutely no reason for me to actually like Mixtapes. In fact, I think I should hate them. They’re obnoxious, one of the vocalists sounds like a second-rate Fat Mike, and they just generally talk a lot of shit both in their lyrics and on their social media presence. Yet they’ve still put together one of the finest pop punk albums I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. Even on the Worst Nights bridges the gap between the two factions of pop punk by featuring guest spots by both Grath Madden (The Steinways, House Boat) and Dan “Soupy” Campbell (The Wonder Years). Not that I expect to see Dear Landlord and The Story So Far on a bill together anytime soon, but if Mixtapes continues on this path that could very well be a reality one day.

01. The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past
What Handwritten lacks in nostalgic songs about a blue-collar lifestyle, On the Impossible Past makes up for in numbers. Perhaps it’s my secret desire to want to be old enough to feel nostalgic, or perhaps it’s because I recently started living a blue-collar lifestyle, but there’s something about The Menzingers’ third disc that kept me listening all year long.

I also have a list of EPs coming soon. Ish. Let's see if I can get it up within a week.
Thanks for reading!

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