Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012

This year, I found myself looking backwards more often than forwards. That said, I also found myself connected more to the music released this year than almost any other that I can remember.

I spent a lot of time discovering music that I missed from the past two decades (like Hum, whom I wish I had known about when I was hopelessly searching for powerful music as an eager tween in the late-90s) as well as re-discovering music that I left in my basement bedroom when I went to college (the recent reunions of Texas is the Reason and Fairweather prompted me to repurchase records that my twin brother and I shared in high school and that he took with him when he moved away). 

I also stumbled upon records that would have made last year’s list—Whirr’s Distressor has been endlessly circling my head for months, and O’Brother’s Garden Window pummels me each time I put it on.

Still, each of the records below will be irremovably hooked to one of the most important years of my life and, at many times, helped me make sense of life’s biggest events—plodding through graduate school, purchasing a permanent residence, starting the most difficult semester of teaching I’ve ever experienced, seeing life through the eyes of a parent while simultaneously figuring out how to care for a child.

Thanks for reading.
-Dane Erbach

Long Ones…

10. Nada Surf
Barsuk Records
Nada Surf has released influential records for more than fifteen years; if each one displays a subtly different flavor, then The Stars Are Different to Astronomy compiles each into one—the guts of High/Low and delicate finesse of Lucky, Let Go’s moody manic-depression, The Proximity Effect’s anxious edges, and the complex pop of The Weight is a Gift. That said, The Stars Are Different to Astronomy is its own flavor and will remain as one of Nada Surf’s most memorable.

9. Sundials
Asian Man Records
Catchy songs are easy to write when following the ol’ one-four-five-one formula, and are far more difficult to write when it’s disregarded. Despite this, though, Sundials’ second full-length record—comprised of unpredictable and inspiring chord progressions—is the catchiest of the year. Full of laid back energy generated by grubby guitars, wobbly rhythms, and Harris Mendell’s austere voice, When I Couldn’t Breathe succeeds due to the power of pure simplicity.
Press play below to hear "New York Crunch" from When I Couldn't Breathe
8. The Gaslight Anthem
SideOneDummy Records
On Handwritten, the Gaslight Anthem perform the same soulful, nostalgic rock ‘n’ roll that they always have, but fulfill the potential that has cursed each of their previous (though still perfect) records. Here, Brian Fallon’s croon isn’t blurred by echo, and the rhythm guitars aren’t buried behind stomping drums and ringing leads; here, the band allows soul’s influence to seep further to their sound; here, the band is more Gaslight Anthem than ever.

7. Run, Forever
Tiny Engines
Though Run, Forever’s preceding output is powerful—rambling and anthemic if nothing else—Settling, the band’s second full-length, seems to better express the dispirited, overcast mood that has always sulked beneath Anthony Heubel’s songs. Anthemic and rambling in a more mature way, these ten tracks reverberate with rich chords, cracking voices, and the sort of cathartic honesty that leaves the listener feeling relieved and lucky for what he or she has.
Press play below to hear "Sun Bruised" from Settling
6. Title Fight
SideOneDummy Records
During a year that might be remembered as the one when the 1990s made a contrived musical comeback, Title Fight seems to have finally filled the shoes that they’ve worn for so long. On Floral Green, the band favors that which has made their sound bleary, rumbling, and stormy from the start—and downplays the pop-punk that peeked through on their previous releases. The resulting record is fuzzy and loud and, unlike the other bandwagon-hoppers, natural.
Press play below to hear "Numb, But I Still Feel It" from Floral Green

5. Everyone Everywhere
Everyone Everywhere’s second self-titled full-length is full of jangly energy and songs that land somewhere between playful and intricate (though both deceptively so). It’s a melodic duality that provides a firm foundation for singer Brendan McHugh’s deadpan delivery—evident in both his singing style and his lyrics, which are weird and pensive and solemn all at once. It’d be unfortunate to lump Everyone Everywhere with the other emo-revivalists; these dudes just play fun, serious rock.
Press play below to hear "Turn and Go and Turn" from Everyone Everywhere
4. Baroness
Relapse Records
Let’s call Yellow and Green what it is—a two-part heavy metal record—but let’s end it at that. Both are built on the attributes that traditionally convey “heaviness” (chugging riffs and roaring vocals among them), but sprinkle it with others that seem to contradict the aesthetic—cavernous soundscapes, folky acoustic guitars, electronic cadences, worming organs. “Epic,” as a descriptor, is a cop out; Baroness is enormous, “heavy,” but also complex and intelligent.
Press play below to hear "March to the Sea" from Yellow and Green
3. The Sidekicks
Red Scare Industries/Really Records
The chords on Awkward Breeds are clean (or, at most, dusty, but never really distorted), and singer Steve Ciolek’s voice climbs through the record unadorned, except by perfect occasional harmonies. Such simplicity, however, allows the band’s songwriting to become this seemingly bare record’s focal point. The result is haunting; these songs, like eerie and wonderful dreams, are the sort that someone might carry around with him or her for days.
Click here to check out the Switchboard Session with the Sidekicks

2. Downtown Struts
Pirates Press Records
Downtown Struts released a perfect punk-rock record—the year’s best, for sure, if not the decade’s best so far. Punchy and persistent, Victoria! song’s express the stress of pursuing one’s passions, of being displaced by society and adulthood, but maintain a peppy and livening melodic sensibility so that these themes propel and uplift the listener. Needless to say, these songs are as fun as they are ferocious, powered by snarling guitars and a sincere spirit.
Click here to check out the Switchboard Session with Downtown Struts

1. The Menzingers
Epitaph Records
The characters and voices that haunt On The Impossible Past seem exhausted. They wait tables, sit by themselves at bars, smoke outside of local shows; they’re bored, lonely, uncertain, looking for an escape, and waiting for life to sort itself out. Maybe that’s why this stripped down, simple punk-rock record speaks to so many: These exhausted characters and voices feel familiar; they’re my family, my friends, and, on a song or two, me.

Short Ones…

5. Souvenirs
6131 Records
Sticking the empty “emo” tag onto Tired of Defending You fails to capture what makes the record memorable. Sure, these songs brood and simmer; guitars glint and flare (and sometimes grunt and roar) on each track against a slow-boiling drumbeat, and singer Tim Riley roars as he recounts difficult relationships. But Souvenirs’ interpretation of ‘90s emo is moodier and more dynamic, darker and angrier; the band doesn’t pander to the genre but, instead, improves upon it.
Click here to check out the Switchboard Session with Souvenirs
Press play below to hear "Sucker" from Tired of Defending You
4. Big Awesome
Self-Released/Baby Moon Records
The best part about Big Awesome’s four-song EP isn’t the smooth, cursive guitars that swirl across each track, or the subconscious toe-tapping triggered by the thick-sliced drumbeats. Instead, the best part about Birdfeeder is the positivity that seeps from these songs; though they exist in a scene built on narcism and nihilism—that prides itself on being pissed off—Big Awesome has written the most uplifting record of the year.
Press play below to hear "Living with Love" from Birdfeeder
3. Hidden Hospitals
If last year’s EP 001 revealed Hidden Hospitals as versatile and powerful and stylistically impossible to pin down, then EP 002 presented a band who had upped the ante. The five songs on this EP display earth-crumbling chords that never come across heavy and complex (but subtle) embellishments that avoid “prog” pretensions; Dave Raymond’s voice soars easily over the multitudinous and limitless melodic landscape that they’ve constructed.
Press play below to hear "The Absence of Emotion" from EP 002
2. Glocca Morra
Kind of Like Records
At the moment, Glocca Morra is the rawest, most reckless band playing spacey, existential punk-rock, and An Obscure Moon Lighting an Obscure World displays this dichotomy with grace and destruction. One second, the record is all jangly, angular chords, all wild howls and hoarse poetry; the next second, it’s spiraling in droning noise and scintillating riffs. The fact that Glocca Morra often expresses both at once makes this EP one in which it is easy to lose oneself.
Press play below to hear "For Lauren Lee" from An Obscure Moon Lighting an Obscure World
1. Restorations
Tiny Engines
Restorations could choose to remain stagnant; their songs could continue combine folky swagger with 100-watt power, and they would continue to impress people. Instead, they release a seven-inch that, in two songs, displays enormous dynamic dexterity; coarser, more memorable vocal melodies; precise and powerful drums; and seemingly endless layers of leads and rhythms, guitars and organs and ambient noise, emotion and energy. A/B shows a band that is not only stretching itself, but focusing itself at the same time.
Press play below to hear "A" from A/B