Every year, I post my top ten albums of the year around New Year’s Day. This year, I didn’t. Apart from my buddy Scott Sellers, I had become convinced nobody read and/or cared. So I held back.
Lo and behold! I received a number of emails and comments from folks who were Not Scott, wondering where the list was. Turns out people actually read it, after all! Who knew?
So, here it is, a bit late, but much-reflected upon, nonetheless.
- Menzingers – On The Impossible Past: This is not just the top album of the year. It is one of the best records I have ever heard, period. Hailing from Joe Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, these four guys were thought to be heading towards greatness since their formation as a punk outfit in 2006. Each new release, each new song, revealed the Menzingers to be far, far more than their punk beginnings suggested they could ever be. With this record – which does not contain a single note that isn’t pitch-perfect – the Menzingers have revealed themselves to be Against Me! (without the willingness to sell out for a hit record), plus Dylan (without the tunelessness), plus The Clash (without the latter-era pretentiousness and self-indulgence). This is, truly, one of the most extraordinary records you will hear in this year, or any year. If these guys don’t change your life, you haven’t been listening.
- Jimmy Cliff – Rebirth: I have been listening to Cliff, non-stop, since I was 15 years old. Like most first wave punks, my introduction to reggae – and ska, and bluebeat, and dub – came in the form of the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, in which Cliff stars and sings. For us skinny, pale, acned young suburban misfits, reggae became the alternative soundtrack to our punk rock lives. And Jimmy Cliff, more than anyone else, was responsible for that. He should have been as big, or bigger, than Marley – but he made some bad career moves, and he never quite attained the mythic status of the Tuff Gong. It is ironic, I think, that Cliff’s greatest record since The Harder They Come was partly the brainchild of another formerly skinny, pale acned young suburban punk – namely the brilliant Tim Armstong of Rancid. From the side one ‘One More’ to Cliff’s take on Paul Simonon’s ‘Guns of Brixton,’ this album will lift you up – and probably right out of your seat, too.
- Japandroids – Celebration Rock: Lala and I saw them when they recently came to Tee Dot, playing a sold-out show at the Phoenix. To say we were disappointed is an understatement. The mix was lousy, the crowd was annoying, and their performance was choppy – at best. Part of the reason we were expecting so much is Celebration Rock itself. It is widely called (by Rolling Stone, Spin, et al.) as one of the top albums of the year, and it is – because it delivers so much. On it, the Vancouver twosome churn out epic punk anthems for the ages – and their ‘House That Heaven Built’ is the best single of 2012. You know it’s perfect when (as I did), you bounce along Summertime New England backroads with four young boys in your Jeep, and they are quite content to play that one song over and over, joyously hollering: “When they love you, and they will, tell ‘em all they’ll love in my shadow! And if they try to slow you down, tell ‘em all to go to Hell!” Indeed.
- Santigold – Master of Make Believe: Like the Menzingers, Santigold is another Pennsylvania-born musical visionary. Like the Menzingers, Santigold (nee White) got her start in the state’s nascent punk scene, and then went on – improbably – to do A&R work for Epic Records. Her first album, 2008’s Santogold, was what caught the attention of me and many others: Diplo plus members of Steel Pulse and Bad Brains lent a hand, and the result was a breathtakingly ambitious record, sampling everything from the Clash to Devo to classic hip hop. Master of Make Believe is just as good, if not better: while Santigold has a broader (and possibly more hit-making) vision, she remains fiercely independent, and she still produces some of the most original rock’n’roll/R’n’B you could care to hear. Give ‘Disparate Youth’ a spin, and it’ll stick to you like a drawer full of fish hooks. Genius.
- Pennywise –All Or Nothing: Jim Lindberg helped me out, big time, with my book Fury’s Hour (the one of which I will always be proudest), and I was stunned and saddened to hear that he and his Hermosa Beach, California cohorts had parted ways. Pennywise without Lindberg? It was inconceivable. But Ignite’s Zoli Teglas was up to the challenge, and All Or Nothing – despite Lindberg’s absence – is one screamin,’ howlin’ slab of punk rock, and one of the best punk records of the year. ‘All Or Nothing,’ the title track, also kicks off the record, and is just as memorable as anything that the band ever recorded with Lindberg. After a back injury, Teglas was sidelined, and devoted himself to encouraging Lindberg to rejoining his old friends. Late in the year, he did, and punk is the better for it.
- NOFX – Self-Entitlement: Despite his well-documented fondness for pharmaceuticals, Fat Mike is a prolific producer of punk. He churns out records the way Octomom creates babies. As such, you are entitled to wonder if the quality might suffer somewhere along the way. But on Self-Entitlement, it doesn’t: funny, punny, hummy. I met up with him again at Toronto’s Riot Fest in the Fall, and gave him one of SFH’s FREE PUSSY RIOT T-shirts. “Free pussy,” said Fat Mike, without blinking. “Where do I sign up?” Some things never change.
- Soundgarden – King Animal: Kim Thayill, in my view, is the greatest rock guitarist in the history of the planet. He is a God. This band, meanwhile, remains as one of my clichéd Guilty Pleasures: they’re heavy rockers, sure. They’re heavily metallic, sure. They’re occasionally emo-style screamers, sure. But they remain as fascinating and as relevant as they were twenty years ago, too. King Animal is the band’s sixth waxing, and the first offering from Soundgarden in more than a decade. ‘Been Away Too Long’ was the album’s debut single, and it told the truth – they’ve been away far too long. They’re playing in Toronto the weekend of the Ontario Liberal Party’s leadership convention: I don’t know how we’ll get to see them – but we will. Glad they’re back.
- Liars – WIXIW: Just when I thought they couldn’t do something totally news and innovative and extraordinary again, they do. There is no band on Earth as creative as the Liars. Period.
- Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball: It probably isn’t easy to pull off being a multi-milllionaire, and paying tribute to the Occupy Movement’s 99 per cent, all at the same time. But Springsteen – who I haven’t really paid a lot of attention to since the bleak genius of ‘Nebraska’ – does it on Wrecking Ball, and then some. Before campaigning (appropriately) for Barack Obama in earnest, the sexagenarian surprised everyone, as he howled against the yawning gap between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless. Here, he sings for union labourers, Mexican immigrants and civil rights heroes, and he gives you the feeling he means every word, every note. “[America’s] promise, from sea to shining sea,” remains unrealized, Springsteen sings – but hope, somehow, never fades.
- WDYHM – SFH: Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s the band I’m in. We are too old for this stuff, we’re ridiculous, and we are now down to one original member (that would be me). I know that too. But we got some great reviews on this record, and we had fun doing it. As soon as we are rid of Rolf, we’ll be happy. Coming soon.
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If you haven’t paid attention to Springsteen since Nebraska, Tunnel of Love, Ghost of Tom Joad, and The Rising are probably all worth your time at the very least.