Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 CDs of 2012

It is time for another one of those opinionated blogs about which CDs someone thinks are the best of the year. In this instance that someone is me, just a small-time singer/songwriter who is absolutely obsessed with music.

This is my 4th annual Top 10 list, but for those that have never read one of my reviews, please allow me to give you some background on my scoring criteria. First, I will only rank CDs that I have purchased. I find it to be somewhat ridiculous to beat my chest in praise of a CD that I wouldn't cough up the $9.99 to purchase when it went on Amazon sale. Second, and possibly the weirdest of my judging criteria, bands that perform well live rank higher. But, you are ranking CDs Eric, not live performances? And in your question is my answer, I am ranking them. I'll do it how I want, and, frankly, I do not care what kind of magic you can create in a studio if you cannot pull it off live. Other factors include, but are not limited to: sustained plays - how long did it live in my dash or end up on iPod rotation; intensity of vocals; quality of lyrics; and interesting instrumentation. Lastly, I will only rank full albums, so if you dropped an EP, I may love it, but I will not rank it. That being said, I would like to make note that if the Superhero Killer EP was and LP, it would have been in this list.

With all that gibberish behind us, here is my Top 10 for 2012. Please feel free to love or hate me in the comments, and let me know your Top 10.


#10 The Lumineers by The Lumineers Number 10 is always a bitch. There were so many great CDs this year: Lucero, Jack White, Lana Del Ray, John Mayer, Kathleen Edwards, Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, Mumford and Sons...any one of these could have edged their way in with sustained spins, an amazing concert, or the right moon, but alas the Lumineers trumped them all with the strength of their Southern Ground Music and Food Festival performance, another one of my Epic Roadtrips of 2012. We went, primarily, to see Amos Lee and David Grey, but all of us ended up buying The Lumineers CD after seeing them play. "Ho Hey" may be my favorite song of the year; it showcases the power of strong songwriting, sing-along choruses, and acoustic instrumentation, and it helped get The Lumineers on my Top 10 list.

#9 Rot Gut, Domestic by Margot & the Nuclear So and So's I credit Pandora and Union Tree Review with turning me on to this band. Pandora for constantly injecting them into my stations, and UTR for opening for them, allowing me to see them pull it off live. They are an explosion of intensity on stage. They create dirty, buzzy, Indie rock that keeps me young and creative. Rot Gut, Domestic is a perfect roadtrip CD. Enough movement and variance to keep you attentive and enough thought provoking lyrics to keep the mind alive. 

#8 Neck of the Woods by Silversun Pickups There is probably no band that has influenced me more over the last few years than Silversun Pickups. Towards the end of So Much Closer I was drawing a significant amount of inspiration from this band, so when they finally announced the release of a new CD, I was elated. I bought the pre-order package with all the bells and whistles: the book, the picture cards, the box, the whole damn thing, and I would do it again. I was fortunate to see them for the second time at the Peabody Opera House this year. Neck of the Woods showed a pretty significant departure from their previous albums, it was more subtle, more musical and less atmospheric. I was concerned about how they would pull it off live, but they Pro'd it up and put on my best show of the year. Some of that had to do with my friend Brian having the hook-up on some sweet corporate tickets that got us a box on the rail, valet parking, food, drinks...I felt rich for the evening. And we were with Warren and Hsu. The company always makes a show better, but I could have been by myself on the floor behind some tall bastard, and I would have, still, been blown away.

#7 Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones You can assume if Norah puts out a CD it will appear on my Top 10 list for the year. She is that amazing. In 2012, if I was doing a Top 20 list, she would have been on here twice because the second Little Willies CD was pretty fantastic too. But, it is a Top 10, and Little Broken Hearts resonated with me. When I first heard the CD I thought for sure it would end up in the Top 5, but, for some reason, it didn't stay with me as much as the others. Every time I come back to it, I am reminded of how delicious it was to pair Norah with Danger Mouse, really pushing her to develop textures that we are not used to hearing from her. More guitar than keys and more sultry than sad, Little Broken Hearts reminds us of how the suck of heartbreak can be used to create beauty.


#6 Rhythm and Repose by Glen Hansard This was a last minute change for me. As I was writing this Rhythm and Repose jumped 3 spots. Glen Hansard can do know wrong to me. His pen is magic, and his voice makes all singers wish we could sing better. I have seen Glen in one incarnation or another 4 times in the last 3 years, and he never fails to put on an amazing show. I got to see him twice this year. Once up in Chicago and once at home in St. Louis. Each time I left thinking that may be the best show I will see all year. Rhythm and Repose is filled with the things that make Glen so special. The lyrics are sincere and personal, yet tug on universal heart strings. His songs refuse to leave you once you hear them, and he voice is as incredible as ever.

#5 Boys and Girls by Alabama Shakes As I have perused other Top 10 lists, Boys and Girls was the CD from my list that seemed to appear the most on other lists. Alabama Shakes are definitely a breakout band, and it is well deserved. I went on a pretty amazing roadtrip with my friends Bryan and Steph. Bryan was the pilot so Steph and I were responsible for music. We agreed to both make 3 mixed discs to fuel the drive. Alabama Shakes was one of the few artists that appeared on my mixes and hers. Powered by the old soul vocals of Brittany Howard, Boys and Girls hits in all the right spots. Feet will tap, asses with shake, love will be made, and salvation will be achieved.

#4 Ownerless by Everest Everest is the only band on this Top 10 that I have not had the chance to see live. That should give you some indication of how great Ownerless is. They are just a great rock band. While they can drive a straight 4 with the best of them, they are certainly not afraid to step outside of standard rock licks and bury you beneath a wall of washed out distortion and delay. Their harmonies are spectacular, and the grooves on Ownerless are just sexy. They make me want to brush the hair out of my lover’s face, as my lips have her pinned to the wall and her wanting hands pull me closer. Yeah. It’s like that.  

#3 The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do by Fiona Apple What can I say, I love Fiona Apple, always have. I don’t care about her social blunders or her heroin sheik emaciation. She is brilliant: great voice, talented pianist, and an amazing lyricist. More importantly, she has grown over her career, and this peculiarly named album showcases that growth. Without a doubt my favorite line from 2012 came from this CD, “Just tolerate my little fist tugging on your forest chest.” So completely sensory. How do you not love it?

#2 The Body Wins by Sarah Jaffe I love when I can point directly to the person that introduced me to an artist, and I can credit Malaina Mobley with my love for Sarah Jaffe. She posted one of Sarah’s videos on my Facebook page with this statement, “I think you should marry her.” While I do not doubt that we would make amazing little singer/songwriter babies, I am not sure Amanda or Sarah’s significant other would approve. Never the less, I did fall in love with her music. I think the best compliment I can pay Sarah is to say she is completely original. When I try to explain her to people I am lost for connection points. She doesn’t remind me of anyone, and that is simply amazing. She is a thoughtful songwriter that is able to escape the acoustic guitar and create interesting tapestries of sound to wrap around her words. This CD will make you move as much as you will think.

#1 The Styletones by The Styletones Much like 2011, for me, there was a clear #1 in 2012. The moment I put the Styletones in my car dash I knew nothing could touch it, and nothing did. It lived in my dash, carried me through several roadtrips, and still gets weekly spins. The Styletones is an example of everything I love about music: an extremely tight rhythm section created by Jake Najor and Bill Thomas; the transformative B3 supplied by Ben Moore; a ridiculously funky horn section courtesy of Andy Geib, Gabriel Sundy, and John Reynold; the sweet soulful guitar of Deron Gant that sends me to my practice space in search of my own soul inspired licks; and great…no wait…FUCKIN’ GREAT lyrics and vocals provided by Stevie Harris. If that name sounds familiar, you probably remember reading the Top 10 of 2011 where his other band, Stevie and the High-Staxx, placed 10th on my Top 10. I have spent several hours trying to determine why there was such a gap between two bands that share members and a singer/songwriter, and all I can come up with is it is me. 2011 was kind of a dark year for me, I was mourning the loss of So Much Closer; spent the majority of the year pining; and ended it in a crazy rollercoaster relationship. I wasn’t ready to be lifted. 2012 has been a year of acceptance for me, embracing my station; realizing how much I truly love my life; and I met a fantastic girl right around the time that Styletones arrived. So when I heard, “There’s a healing on the dance floor, salvation in the groove” and my ass was seat-shaking, I felt that shit. Or when Stevie unleashed, “My wings are dirty from doing the sanctified strut” with an intensity that jumped through my speakers and shook me, I felt that shit. And when the band laid a fat groove allowing Stevie to hop on his pulpit and tell me, “Be a jewel in the heart of a lotus; keep your cool and sharpen your focus; yes you can, be a better man.”  Well, I felt that shit. And, at the end of the day, I want music that makes me feel, and this CD moves me on every track.  

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