Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Warmer Music's Favorite Songs of 2012 [30-21]

Oh another year, another set of best-of lists. This year, having contributed to both PopMatters and Spectrum Culture (as well as their respective year-end list-making) I've been exposed to more music and forced to think harder than ever before about these rankings. Ignoring for the moment that this entire exercise is, in the grand, or even medium-term, scale of things, fairly insignificant, it's been a humbling experience.

You see, the more I listen to music, learn about music and write about music, the more I realize just how functionally infinite is the pool of recorded creativity and just how little of it any one person can hope to survey to even a cursory degree. With that in mind, my caveat for this year's lists of songs, albums and concerts is even more forceful. These aren't definitive (God knows I'd seriously revise last year's list now, given half the chance), they aren't exhaustive (you know how exhausting it was just to do this one?) and their very premise is riddled with holes, exceptions and other qualifiers.

But what kind of music snob would let quibbles such as those stand between them and a good arbitrary ranking? Not I, good people, not I.

All Song Titles Are Also Preview/Dowload Links
30. "Saratoga" - The Soft Pack  Buy Strapped
The Soft Pack's second album, Strapped proved to be a grower for me. Though it does have it's soggy spots, the fuzzy guitars and light experimentalism that mark its first half may be initially underwhelming, but I founded them surprsingly beguiling upon repeated listens. In "Saratoga," Matt Lamkin's laconic delivery masks a surprising amount of vitriol towards an unfaithful ex, but the blissfully fuzzed out wall of guitars provide a spoonful of sugar to help this particular medicine go down quite nicely.
29. "Hey Jane"- Spiritualized  Buy Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Spiritualized is a band that I fell in love with live. Seeing them performing with a full gospel choir at Pitchfork 2008 was perhaps the best introduction you could get to a band who makes music that BIG. Unfortunately, I've had less success connecting with them on record. What came across as sweeping grandeur live often just sounded draggy in my headphones. Although I didn't necessarily love every minute of this year's Sweet Heart Sweet Light, "Hey Jane" finally gave me a song the in band's latter day catalog that I could get down with. Like an even druggier update on "A Day In The Life" it's a poppy, vortex of psychedelia and grand declarations of love. Making reference to Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" in the lyrics, Jason Pierce acknowledges that he's swinging for the rock n' roll fences with this one and the result sounds as sweet as the crack of ball on bat.

28. "Sixpack" - JEFF The Brotherhood  Buy Hypnotic Knights
Spring and Summer 2012 was some of the most consistently hot weather that Chicago has ever seen. I spent that time in two different apartments with nothing more than a few box fans to keep my brain from melting in my skull and trickling out my ears. In the midst of this came good old JEFF The Brotherhood with another Blue Album-knockoff about drinking, swimming and getting the hell out of the city and it felt like a cool shower. "It's so hot / In this tiny room / It's so so so so so so so so HOT!" Story of my summer. (NOTE VIDEO IS NSFW)
27.  "Miracle" - Radar Eyes  Buy Radar Eyes
Radar Eyes self-titled debut is full of dark scuzzy indie jams served with a large side of 60's pop and none satiates more than "Miracle." Already released on cassette, the LP version is cleaned up just enough to make it shine without killing it's fuzzy charms. But even after I bought the studio version, I think what sealed my love for this song was a stripped-down Record Store Day performance I caught in Reckless Records. Featuring just some droney keys and guitars, it showed the song's sticky hook in gorgeously drawn-out languor. Already a fan, "Miracle" once again shot up to the top of my most-played on iTunes cue, securing its spot on this list.
26. "45" - The Gaslight Anthem  Buy Handwritten
The farther we go, the more it looks like the Gaslight Anthem was a band that had one great album in them and a few other good songs left over for every other outing. This year's Handwritten found them (as ever) trying to return to the old ways, like, you know, 45s. The endless changing of the record and dragging of the needled worked well as a metaphor life and aging and Brian Fallon's keen ear for spikey anthems has clearly not forsaken him. In a year where I finally took the plunge into the world of vinyl, this song (on clear blue wax, no less) has been a constant, reassuring companion.
25. "Standing On A Curb" - Spider Bags  Buy Shake My Head
Although the Spider Bags haven't totally stood still in the sonic evolution, there's still a strong thread that runs through all their songs. "Standing On A Curb" has all the hallmarks of the Bags' best work - drunkeness, a love-lorn singer, incorrigibly fun "ooh-ooh" backing choruses, all attached to a manic, storming bundle of cow boogie that blows the doors off the barn and invite the whole town in for some dancin'. Dan McGee is, as always up to his old tricks, hanging despondently around town, pining for a girl and then going and doing something stupid about it. Like Westerberg, he hides his backwater boredom well beneath layers of put-on apathy and beer cans but he's still that same old romantic we've always known. Maybe someday music fans will fall in love with the whole dog and pony show the way I have.
24. "Stay Away From Downtown" - Red Kross  Buy Researching The Blues
Having heard the name "Red Kross" for years but never actually diving in, I decided that 2012 was my year and they ended up being yet another late year favorite for me. Featuring snarling guitars, skull-shattering drumming and trashy "I Fought The Law" (or was it "Heart") lyrics, "Stay Away From Downtown," quickly became scream-along anthem whenever I needed some quick adrenaline, aggression release or just felt like belting out some poppy yet rip-snortin' punk with my windows down flying across the Dan Ryan. Surprisingly melodic beneath a still-frightening guitar assault, the song's tenacity worked perfectly with its catchy roots which played perfectly against the "sha-la" backing vocals and anthemic choruses, all of which make it a perfect mixtape starter. Or ender. Or momentum pick-me-up. The point is, it's good.
23. "Turn It Around" - The Men  Buy Open Your Heart
The Men don't do much, only, somehow, they also do a whole lot. Having discovered their gloriously scattered mixture of punk, southern rock, country and anything else they might fancy in the scorching sun of the Pitchfork Festival, I was already predisposed upon my first listening to Open Your Heart. The standout track turned out to be a blatant Stiff Little Fingers ripoff called "Turn It Around" that harkened directly back to the time when punk was little more than sped-up '60s-style pub rock with a sneer. About as straightforward as you can get, sizzling guitars match a screaming lyrics about a girl "going down" and "turning it around," "Turn It Around" is as retrotastic as it gets yet it manages to wring a measure of freshness out of these elements. The Men snuck up on me this year, but their first song blew the locks and let them force themselves into my consciousness and boy am I glad they did.
22. "Party" - G-Side
Along with BBU and Das Racist, the world lost yet another great hip-hop crew this year when Alabama rappers G-Side decided to go their separate ways for solo fame. Before they did that, however, they handed out some goodies to their Twitter followers, including a download to this banger earlier this spring. A perfect companion piece to Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools (Drank)," only this song dives into the crevasse of endless partying, drugs and drinking as means of glorious escape. Still musing about their hipster fanbase and trying to reconcile it with their small-town dirty south aesthetic, "Party" raises some interesting questions that never quite get answered. Even with that, "Party" is a bona fide JAM that needs to be at every kegger and BBQ with a decent sound system. It's not "great" music, but my God, at least it aims at relevance as it also provides entertainment to within an inch of its life. A fun and fitting send-off for these boys form Alabama. Not too shabby.

21. "I'm Only Lonely" - Gentleman Jessie  Buy Leaving Atlanta
Gentleman Jessie springs from a brand of '60s-aping power-poppers who, these days, must walk a tightrope between writing absolute knockout songs that also manage to avoid bore or outright ape the styles they profess to love. With healthy doses of British Invasion singles peeking between the organ and guitar, "I'm Only Lonely" is the perfect oldies cut for people who don't like oldies. Singing that "I'm only lonely when I'm a-round you," Jessie turns sad feelings into a freeing, happy music, imagining leaving his problems behind as he ditches his old girl for what we can only hope is happiness. Expertly written performed with an overabundance of taught exuberance, it's a windows-down song that makes you yearn for spring weather and a playlist that includes itself sandwiched between the the Kinks and New Pronographers and that's a wonderful feeling.

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