November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Best of 2012/Jeff Katz

10albums

Best of 2012

Of course, ‘tis the season for “Best of” lists. There are lots of ‘em, usually broken down into subsets – best album, best reissue, best box set, and so on. But is that how you differentiate between your favorites of the year? Seems to me that what you hear doesn’t get sorted in your head into some prearranged marketing category. What you like the most you like the most, right? That’s my approach to a “Best of.” What did I like, what did I listen to with regularity? Ultimately that’s what counts.

Before I lay out my Top Ten, a word or two on an album or two. Paul McCartney’s Kisses On the Bottom, a slickly produced set of standards was the most pointless record of the year. I love Macca, and usually find a few bits of value in his worst work. It was hard for me to do so with Kisses. Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball garnered five star reviews everywhere. I still wonder why. It is one of his weakest turns, a nonstop pounding of sloganeering and anthem, as simplistic and weak as John Lennon’s “Power to the People.”  The Boss means well, and that counts for a lot, though not so much here.

Here’s the list:

10 – Between the Times and Tides – Lee Ranaldo

Sonic Youth came to fame in a period of lost time for me rock wise. I was out of college and way into jazz. Every time I’ve chanced upon a Thurston Moore show, at Academy Records Annex and Solid Sound Festival, he leaves me numb. However, I’ve been catching up with their sound in good faith.

Lee Ranaldo opened for Wilco this summer and I was taken by the cuts from his new album. It’s a solid set of tunes worthy of a founding member of Sonic Youth. Immensely satisfying. Plus he’s a fellow Binghamton alum and came over to say hi to me after his set.

9 –  Locked Down – Dr. John

Bayou by way of Akron, the good doctor’s return to prominence came with ample help from The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. The songs are best when swampy, but even when it’s more Black Keys than Mac Rebennack, it’s still damn good.

 

8 – Uno – Green Day

I very much disliked the overblown stadium bombast of both American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. Uno! is a return to form, a solid reminder of why Dookie was so wonderful when it came out almost two decades ago. Lots of fun, lots of attitude. Uno! is a nice throwback to why I liked them when they started. (Warning: Dos! the second in the sequentially released triology is much less rewarding. Like the Matrix, we may be in the midst ofrapidly diminishing returns. I’m kinda dreading  Tre!

7 – The Only Place – Best Coast

Best-Coast-The-Only-PlaceLet’s just say I’m a sucker for the sound. It’s light and lovely, in the best tradition of female led pop groups.Bethany Cosentino rules.

 

 

 

6 – Roadcase 006 – 2012-07-28 Cooperstown, NY – Wilco

wilco-mediumIs this an album? I’m not sure; I think it counts. From the Wilco website, this live recording of their Cooperstown show captures the best show I saw this year.  A great set list, 25 tunes strong, which kept the crowd going through an early downpour. Nels Cline’s sputtering short phrase solo in “Impossible Germany” was a real highlight. Leader Jeff Tweedy was quirkily charming, as usual. Lots of fun, lots of laughs.

5 – Blunderbuss – Jack White

Is a Jack White solo project any different than a regular White Stripes record? Yes and no; it depends at what stage of their career you look. Blunderbuss isn’t so very different from Icky Thump in its collection of not so straightforward Jack and Meg type songs. Once a song like “Conquest” made it onto a Stripes album all bets were off. White’s first official work is a total triumph.

4 – Tempest – Bob Dylan

COLUMBIA RECORDS BOB DYLAN ALBUMA great album overall, marred only by the shockingly awful “Roll On John,” Dylan’s shallow tribute, if that’s what it is, to John Lennon. He’s forgiven for that misstep. The record starts with the deceptively jaunty “Duquesne Whistle”- Bob Dylan as the “song and dance man” he once mockingly called himself. The title cut, nearly 14 minutes on the Titanic, is a true epic and the best of Dylan’s long form that stretches from “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” to “Brownsville Girl” to “Highlands.” Gravelly Dylan is proving to be as compelling as nasal Dylan.

3 – Vincebus Eruptum – Blue Cheer

Blue_Cheer_-_Vincebus_Eruptum-300x300The mono mix (Sundazed reissue) of this pioneering work of heavy metal (originally released in January 1968) is a bludgeon with little adornment, in the best sense. Paul Whaley’s drum sounds are positively Muppet-like, with the sense of abandon that Animal brought to the skins. The flat slap of Whaley’s kit coupled with Dickie Peterson’s resonant throbbing bass form a thick dense substance. Leigh Stephens’ guitar work, several notches above solid, if miles from Clapton’s and Hendrix’ virtuosity, lends a touch of the garage, making the sound that much more powerful. This joyfully psychedelic slop-take on the electric blues gives The Cheer much in common with Big Brother and the Holding Company. If you’re looking for the first contraction in the birth of metal, start here. Blue Cheer’s coming out wail is louder than any record of its time.

2 – The Carpenter – The Avett Brothers

avett_brothers_the_car-1abeThe Avetts bring an aching sweetness that walks the line between soulful and maudlin but doesn’t cross over. They are sooo very sincere, and it works. The songs are seemingly of the simplest construction, and that’s the hook: straightforward, catchy, memorable. Highlights abound. “Live and Die,” “Pretty Girl from Michigan,” it’s all good fun, but when they burst out with the Beatley, “I Never Knew You,” I nearly passed out from over-smiling. That’s their gift; Seth and Scott have a way of spreading good feeling.

1 – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do – Fiona Apple

Fiona-Apple-The-Idler-WheelOff the charts brilliant. Stranger than even a standard run of the mill Fiona Apple album (as if there was such a creation), the latest offering comes with Native-American chanting, oddball word choices like the overly stressed “periphery,” and self-harmonies that sound like Morticia Addams’ sister Ophelia. Her breakup songs are terrifying. I can tell you that her willingness and enthusiasm in exposing the flaws and frailties of her exes scares the shit out of me. Man, you do not want to break up with that girl! Idler Wheel may not be as much fun as her others and is at times a very tough listen, but it was the best album of the year, a work of total genius. Nothing else came close.

 

About the author:

Jeff Katz, Mayor of Cooperstown, is the music editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.”