My Top 25 Albums of 2012

If something’s not on the list, either I’ve never heard it or your favorite band sucks.

Click the links to listen to a song from said album.

25) Nu Sensae – Sundowning
24) Screaming Females – Ugly
23) Ceremony – Zoo
22) Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden
21) Sun Kil Moon – Among The Leaves
20) Bob Dylan – Tempest
19) JEFF The Brotherhood – Hypnotic Nights
18) Swearin’ – s/t
17) A Whisper In The Noise – To Forget
16) Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky
15) Bob Mould – Silver Age
14) Mean Jeans – On Mars
13) The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
12) Jack White – Blunderbuss
11) White Lung – Sorry

10)  Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
This would have been higher if not for those weird Irish songs, but it’s still the Boss and the songs that rock ROCK.

9) OFF! – s/t
Second LP from Keith Morris‘ new punk band OFF!  It’s 1981 again in your face.

8) Forgetters – s/t
Blake Schwarzenbach from Jawbreaker/Jets To Brazil returns with his new band, which is an excellent mix of the two mentioned bands.

7) Tyvek – On Triple Beams
Indie garage punk?  I don’t know…they’re from Detroit and they’re really good.

6) Trash Talk – 119
Sacramento hardcore band Trash Talk’s fourth LP “119” is their longest and slowest to date.  14 songs, 21 minutes.  This shit SHREDS!

5) Gentleman Jesse – Leaving Atlanta
Power-pop!  Elvis Costello on speed.  (Elvis Costello may have actually been on speed.)

4) The Men – Open Your Heart
Catchy, aggressive, sleepy, fast, insane and avant-garde and still the most conventional thing they’ve done yet.

3) Jimmy Cliff – Rebirth
Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff teams up with producer Tim Armstrong to put out far and away his best album since the early 80s.  Instant classic.

2) Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Japandroids channel the spirit of the 90s without hacking or being retro.  Celebration rock, indeed.

1) Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory
The Cloud Nothings bring a tight intensity to go along with these infectious hooks.  And they still manage to sound sincere in an age of tired, tired irony.  I haven’t been this excited about a band in years.

Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory

Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

MYSTERY SONG: Alex Clare – Too Close

Pasty superstar or aspiring fisherman? Photo from http://static.gigwise.com

Pasty superstar or aspiring fisherman? Photo from static.gigwise.com

Is it worse to be out of the loop at 34 or being totally in tune with Nicki Minaj at 34?  Why would I like pop music now when I didn’t like it as a kid either?  Granted pop music back then was Toad The Wet Sprocket and Big Head Todd & The Monsters.  (All the bands back then sounded like bad Mario Brothers villains.)

So, to see what I’ve been missing out on, I decided to find a “hot” new single from a singer/band that I’ve never heard of and then watch the Youtube video twice.  Once without sound and one with sound on.  I wrote down my thoughts before and after I watched/listened to see if I was close.  I wasn’t.

I chose Alex Clare’s “Too Close” from a top ten list, because the name was so generic I couldn’t tell if he was Disney pop, pop punk or polka.  I’ve never even heard of this person, but he has nearly 37 million views on Youtube so he’s probably not a total fluke.

Here goes…

Okay, so I see a Ginger.  He’s got that hat that Gingers wear to make them feel like they’re Irish or from Philly or something.  Very exciting.  He’s sitting down so this must be a slow song.  Dude is pale enough to be in Evanescence.   Oh, there’s a boxer.  No, wait…a ninja?  I am at a loss for what the connection between Lucky and the Last Samurai is , but Paddy McGuiness here looks like he has to take a dump on that chair.  I’m really glad this guy is indoors.  He’d probably get a wicked pissa of a sunburn if he went out into the sun.  Does Brother Ali know somebody’s impersonating his grandpa?

If I didn’t know better, I’d think that this was a heavy metal video.  Grey tones, people with swords.  But it’s gotta be some of that Mumford & Sons crap.  This dude totally wants a banjo.  He definitely has more than one coat made of tweed.

Oh his singing is getting more intense as the ninjas fight!  I imagine he’s saying something like “No, no, ninja’s don’t fiiiiiiiight.  You are probably hot chicks underneathhhhhhhhh.  We are all friendssssssss………don’t fight, let’s go eat some potatoooooooos!”  I guess there’s a reason why I’m not a songwriter.

Seriously?  This is a video?  “Yeah, yeah, I got this great idea.  We got this warehouse…these frickin’ Tae Kwon Do students are gonna hit Nerf sticks together and you’re gonna kinda sit or stand there and not seem happy about it.  Not like super mad, or anything, but just kind of against it.  It’s gonna be great!”

Okay, now time to listen to this song…

WHAT. THE. FUCK?  Michael Rappaport sounds like the guy from Maroon 5?!  I was way off on this one.  To be fair though, if you saw this guy walking down the street in that hat and those clothes with that complexion you’d think he was on his way to a Flogging Molly concert.

You know you’re a pretentious douche though when your wikipedia page reads like this: “Clare adopted his current stage name, Alex Clare, in 2010, replacing Alexander G. Muertos, a pseudonym he first used whilst still at school.”  WHILST?!  You better be pursuing a degree in geophysics and space chaplaincy if you’re going to use anything whilst at school.

I can’t give this guy too much shit though because obviously he’s a success.  But it pisses me off that Sabertooth/Mr. Rogers is a millionaire and meanwhile I just bought toilet paper from Family Dollar.

So kudos to you, pasty white pop superstar.  I don’t like your music, but you’re not hurting anybody.  You sure don’t sound anything like you look, but neither did Mike Tyson.

Ska Sucks

Oh, 1997.   What a year.  Dolly the Sheep was cloned, making New Zealand farmers everywhere salivate.  The Heaven’s Gate Cult suicide pictures made black Nike’s look strangely appealing.  Good ol’ Mike Tyson showed the world that Evander Holyfield’s ears were tasty enough for a second helping.

And a musical style called ska was storming the airwaves.  But let’s just pretend like that didn’t happen.

There are few styles of music that have weathered worse than 90s ska.  It was punk rock for band geeks.  And it didn’t help that the names were just atrocious.  They were a bit pun-happy: Monica Lewinska, Skabba The Hut, Mr. Skatato Head, Ghenghis Skahn.  Those names are real.  Real people sat down with their trumpets, trombones, Jing Tinglers, Flu Floopers and Tar Tinkers and decided that these names were acceptable.  And nobody stopped them.

Just to clear things up, ska was around long before the 90s.  And it was good.  Ska was invented in Jamaica in the late 50s/early 60s (depending on who you ask), with artists like Desmond Dekker, The Skatalites and a young Bob Marley being early stars.  Then it moved with the Jamaican immigrants to the UK and became popular in the late 70s/early 80s.  This style of ska, called Two Tone because of the mix of black and white band members, was a hybrid of original ska beats mixed with punk attitude like The Specials and The Selecter.  Mainstream America caught on at last in the 90s with “third-wave” punk ska, (i.e. Reel Big Fish, The Mighty Mighty BossTones and Goldfinger.)

And boy did I love ska.  Back in college, I used to wear a scally cap with a dog collar and a NBA logo ska shirt.  One time I was wearing that outfit and a random girl walked up to me, looked me up and down with disgust and said  “No.” Then she just walked away.  People just didn’t understand, maaaannnnnn.  I wanted to skank all night and ska-core every day.  Where’s my Vespa?  Pick it up, pick it up!

Now that it’s 2012, it’s impossible not to look back on all of this with extreme embarrassment.  But I still have a lot of those bands on my iTunes and occasionally they’ll pop into a shuffle mix.  Bands that I used to love like Buck O Nine, Mustard Plug and Voodoo GlowSkulls sound about as good today as the annual prostate exam I’m getting close to needing.

However, not all of the ska bands from that era sucked.  In fact, some of them were damn good and still are.  Here are three ska bands from the 90s that I enjoy just as much today as I did during the Clinton years.

Hepcat
Hailing from Los Angeles, Hepcat is without question the best ska band of the last 20 years.  If you weren’t paying attention, you’d think they were straight out of the 60s  Kingston.  These guys had serious, serious chops both vocally and with their Tar Tinkers.  And check out the video in the link below.  Does the singer on the left look familiar?  He was the blind guy on the TV show “Becker” as well as the fellow who says “This place looks dead” in the movie “Swingers.”  That officially makes him the 2nd most successful member of a ska band post-ska.  Number #1 is the singer from the Aquabats who invented “Yo Gabba Gabba.” Last place is every surviving member of Sublime.

Suggested Hepcat Listening:
I Can’t Wait

The Slackers
Nothing says Jamaica like a bunch of white guys from Brooklyn.  But they made it seem as natural as DeNiro in Raging Bull.  The Slackers started in 1991, mixing ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub, soul, garage rock, and jazz and they haven’t stopped since.  They made album after album of solid tunes for two decades.  No fads, no goofy songs about food, just old school ska debauchery with a New York punch to the face.

Suggested Slackers Listening:
Married Girl

Mephiskapheles –

Okay, okay, yes, their name is Mephiskapheles.  It’s a ska pun on Mephistopheles (i.e. The Devil.)   Their first album was called “God Bless Satan” and their gimmick was that their songs were about Satan or Hell.  Well, they had a couple songs about food, but it was evil food.  So yeah, they had a schtick.  But holy smokes, these guys could play.  They had a Fishbone-like energy to their music.  Sometimes they were super-fast and sometimes they brought it down real low.  But they were always evil.  “My bologna has a first name, it’s S-A-T-A-N!”

Suggested Mephiskapheles Listening:
Mephiskapheles

So go ahead and listen to some fun ska music.  Nobody needs to know.   Just leave the Hawaiian shirts, Dickie’s shorts and wallet chains in the storage space where they belong.

Satan Is Real – The Louvin Brothers Rule The Underworld

I think librarians hate me.

I’ve had more than one of them refer to me as a “regular”, which I’m pretty sure is not a compliment.  Regulars are for bars.  Apparently, I am the “Norm” of the Minneapolis Public Library system.

The reason they hate me is because I make them do a lot of daily work.  I reserve albums at an alarming rate.

Whatever.  It’s not illegal.

Okay, it actually might be illegal.  But only if you check out the CDs, burn them to your Itunes and then return them without purchasing them somewhere else.  I’m totally not doing that!   That would be wrong.  *cough*  No, I check them out, listen to them for a week, decide if I like them or not and then go to a Tower Records and pay $20 for a hunk of plastic that cost 35 cents to make.  I also don’t pee in the shower or eat out of the gummy bear bin at the grocery store.

Lately I’ve been stalking the reservations of the person next to me at the library.  I don’t know who they are or what they look like, but they have stellar taste in music.  That’s how I discovered 50s country duo the Louvin Brothers and their bat-shit crazy album cover for “Satan Is Real.”

LouvinBrothers_SatinIsReal

Some people have described the album cover as “scary.”  These people must be six year old children. I’m not sure how a grown adult could ever find this visually frightening, unless they had a traumatic experience with door-to-door salesmen in matching white suits trying to hug them in Hell.  Not only are both brothers smiling, but the 16-foot Satan figure in the back has buck-teeth, cross-eyes and tiny hands.  He’s also naked with no visible genitalia.  “Children, be good or evil, red, eunuch Urkel will stand behind you and point the non-sharp end of a pitch-fork at you! BEWARRRRRRRRRE!”

According to Charlie Louvin’s autobiography, the album cover was their own idea.  The brothers wanted a “realistic” image of Hell, so older brother Ira Louvin created a giant plywood Satan and hauled it to an old rock quarry.   There, they started several fires, using the old tires that were littered about.  These rocks overheated from the flames and started to burst and fly out like popcorn.  Then it started to rain, threatening to put out the fires.  The photographer rushed a couple quick shots and viola: What I now know to be as one of the most enduring, endearing, funny, contradictory and supposed-to-be-scary album covers of all time.  Can you imagine some dainty little Rascal Flatts band having a cover like this today?  Their primpy, Affliction hair would go up in flames before they even snapped a shot.

The Louvin Brothers wrote nearly all their own music and had some of the most spine-tingling vocal harmonies of all time.  The only band that can hold a candle to them in that department is the Beach Boys.  And although most of the Brothers’ tunes were gospel numbers, they were anything but saints.

Especially Ira.

Ira was a son of a bitch, pure and simple.  He womanized, swore on stage and drank to the point of oblivion.  If his mandolin was ever out of tune, which was frequently, he’d freak out and bash it against the wall.  This was in the 40s and 50s, long before Jimi Hendrix and The Who destroyed their instruments.  One minute, Ira would be strumming chords, his voice rising and falling majestically in praise of God.  Then, in the next instant, he’d yell “Get all these fucking drunks out of here!”, despite being drunk as a Hoosier himself.  Then he’d smash his mandolin to smithereens, while children cried and appalled old church ladies gasped and screamed.  I live for stories like that.  The tension!  That’d be like calling a plumber today and instead of fixing your pipes he pulled them off, shattered your mirror and called you a whore.  (That happened to me once, actually, but I totally deserved it.)

The Louvin Brothers broke up in 1963, due to Ira’s advancing alcoholism.  Ironically, Ira died two years later after being struck by a drunk driver.  Charlie went on to have even more hits as a solo artist than the Louvins did together and passed away in 2008.  Perhaps the Louvin Brothers aren’t as famous as Hank Williams or Johnny Cash, but their influence has reverberated through such artists as the Everly Brothers,  Gram Parsons and Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

Satan is Real, folks!  Maybe he’s a 16-foot plywood cut-out.  Maybe he’s a bottle.  Maybe he’s Toby Keith’s noodly perm.  To me he’s one of the greatest albums of all time.

I highly recommend Charlie’s autobiography “Satan Is Real: The Ballad Of The Louvin Brothers.

Suggested Louvin Brothers listening:
When I Stop Dreaming
Satan Is Real
If We Forget God
Don’t Laugh
Almost Persuaded