Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012: The Year In Straight-Up Rock

Every couple of years, in this era when TV-oriented teen-pop, hip-hop, and electronic dance music dominate the charts, silly music writers will go out and pronounce straight-up, guitar driven rock 'n' roll dead...and then every couple years, just after such pronouncements have been made, rock roars back with a vengeance.

2012 was one of those years, highlighted by a number of fine albums that put chugging power chords, killer blues riffs, boogie-woogie keys, and party-all-night choruses back where they belong in rock 'n' roll - front and center.

1. Celebration Rock - Japandroids: The unquestioned summer rock album of 2012. Open Your Heart and Attack On Memory are more varied and consistently interesting, but for sheer hoist-your-brew-to-the-sky drums-and-guitar party anthem awesomeness, nothing topped this record or the epic twin pillars upon which it was erected, The Nights Of Wine And Roses and The House That Heaven Built, both bona fide contenders for song of the year.
STRONG RECOMMEND - Spotify! / iTunes / Amazon.

2. Open Your Heart - The Men: It shouldn't work as well as it does - the mix is dreadful, the vocals sometimes even worse, and it displays a complete disregard for traditional coherent sequencing...but for noise rock done with tons of urgency, devil-may-care stylistic freedom, and a strong debt to old time masters like The Stooges, MC-5, Sonic Youth, and The Rolling Stones, nothing topped this slop-rock joy.
STRONG RECOMMEND - Spotify! / iTunes /Amazon.

3. Attack On Memory - Cloud Nothings: Another fine album, this Nirvana-esque effort from young Cleveland native Dylan Baldi doesn't deliver quite the peaks of Celebration Rock or the front-to-back intrigue of Open Your Heart, but it might offer the best combination of both. Mixing grungy, youthful power pop like Fall In and Stay Useless with emotionally and/or instrumentally searing material like Wasted Days and Separation, Attack On Memory marks Baldi as a name to watch in the years to come.
SOLID RECOMMEND - Spotify! / iTunes / Amazon.

4. Call Me Sylvia - Low Cut Connie: The piano is back, baby! Taking on the same bar band/blue rock motifs that have powered The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and The Hold Steady through the last decade, but re-incorporating that old-school tickled-ivories boogie-woogie of classic rock pianists like The Rolling Stone's Ian Stewart into the mix, Call Me Sylvia is lively, bawdy, irreverent, barrel-house fun
SOLID RECOMMEND - Spotify! / iTunes / Amazon.

5. Blunderbuss - Jack White: I didn't care for it at all at first, and I still think this is one of the year's most overrated albums...but it has grown on me to the point where I now consider it a legitimate solid recommend. After a decade on top, White is really starting to repeat himself...riffs, lyrics, vocal phrasings here all feel like recycled, less interesting variations of his better White Stripes and Raconteurs songs (Salute Your Solution-clone 16 Saltines anyone), but I have to admit, those are some excellent White Stripes and Raconteurs songs Blunderbuss is referencing. More piano-based than past efforts, if Jack White can do no wrong in your book, you'll love this album.  If like me, you were hoping for something with a fresher feel, give it a spin on a free streaming service first before plunking down any cash.
SOLID RECOMMEND - Spotify! / iTunes / Amazon.

6. Ugly - Screaming Females: You want riffs, you've got it.  Singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster's Corine Tucker/Karen O flavored vocals are a challenge - raw and powerful one moment, as grating as shredding Styrofoam the next - and will be a deal breaker for some, but her heavy Dinosaur Jr. meets Sleater-Kinney guitar work, as well as the backing of the trio's lean rhythm section, is sometimes inspired.
MILD RECOMMEND - Spotify! / iTunes / Amazon.

7. Black & Blu - Gary Clark, Jr.: An occasionally fantastic but often wishy-washy major label debut from the already legendary Austin axe-swinger, this album is riveting whenever Clark posits himself as the natural successor to the Jimi Hendrix / Stevie Ray Vaughn school of guitar exorcism, and average at best when he tries to prove he can hang with his contemporaries in softie neo-soul. An album where eclecticism hurts rather than helps, check it out for its best moments, but this is one you may want to cherry-pick.
MILD RECOMMEND - Spotify! / iTunes / Amazon.

8. METZ - METZ: One of the most punishing releases of the year, Metz is a hard one to define, sticking to punk brevity, but blurring the lines between hardcore punk, psych-rock, no-fi noise, and modern metal.  I like the psych-rock leaning numbers like Wet Blanket and Headache best, but fans of muddy, harder-edged music will probably like it all.
MILD RECOMMEND - Spotify! / iTunes / Amazon.

Other Rock Titles Worth A Listen:

Boys & Girls - Alabama Shakes
Clear Heart Full Eyes - Craig Finn
Heaven - The Walkmen
Local Business - Titus Andronicus
On The Impossible Past - The Menzingers
Yellow & Green - Baroness

Next Up - The Year in Folk and Singer-Songwriter

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