Friday, December 14, 2012

Rock Albums Post XII: Favorite Albums of 2012

Here it is again... the end of another excellent year in music. Most of my musical tastes come from sample discs online and watching youtube videos and more to get the idea of the sound. I definitely do not look at Billboard album charts or anything like that. I tend to stay away from commercial and go more for the artistry in music. I shy away from the music video and and submerge into the audio. It's all about the music for me. I could care less what the people making the music look like, although I do enjoy a good album cover.

My prime taste in music is alternative rock. I've been an alt-rock fan ever since the late 1970's (yeah, I've been around for a while now - I was nineteen in 1979). Gary Numan and The Cars were my earliest forays into alt-rock. Pink Floyd has played a big part in my appreciation for alternative sounds. I also love dance music with heavy guitars, industrial is a favorite. 

My favorite non-rock genre is jazz. I mostly go for improvisational, fusion, abstract and hard-bop. Though I can enjoy some smooth jazz such as Diana Krall or Al Jarreau. Lately my jazz interests are Weather Report, Stefan Harris and Ornette Coleman. 

Anyhow, this year's list contains my 18 favorite albums of the year. This list was originally my 20 Favorite but due to a few limitations from bloggers (mainly to do with labels) I did a Top 18 list. 

Last year I made a list of Favorite Albums from 2011... here's the link if you want to see that list: "Favorite Albums of 2011".

- Randall Webb

18. Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill

Release Date: October 30, 2012
Label: Reprise
Producer: Mark Humphreys
Chart Positions: #4 Germany, #6 Norway and Belgium, #7 Canada and Sweden, #8 US, #11 Netherlands and Denmark, #12 Austria, #14 UK, #18 Finland, #20 New Zealand, #25 Spain and #28 Australia
Certifications: None yet
Metacritic Rating: 80 out of 100
Notes: Neil Young and Crazy Horse released two albums in 2012, the first was "Americana" an album in which he does his renditions of traditional early American folk tunes. With "Psychedelic Pill" Young and Crazy horse hit their stride. The music is fully thought out and performed. Young's voice is in good form as he fills his performance with his brand of soul. The guitar work is what makes the album outstanding with every ranging from electrifying to down home strumming.

 "Twisted Road" from "Psychedelic Pill"

17. Grimes - Visions
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Label: Arbutus / 4AD
Producer: Grimes
Chart Positions: #46 Belgium, #65 Ireland, #67 UK, #98 US
Certifications: None yet
Metacritic Rating: 80 out of 100
Notes: Grimes is Canadian recording artist Claire Boucher. Grimes began her career music in 2009 (at the age of 21) and by 2010 released her first album. "Visions" is her third album and received great reviews from critics as well as generating enough sales to reach the charts in many countries throughout the world. Her music is an eclectic mix of electronica, vocal experimentation and psychedelia.

Grimes - Oblivion (from Visions)

Claire Boucher (Grimes)

16. Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society
Release Date: March 20, 2012
Label: Head's Up International
Producer: Esperanza Spalding, Q-Tip, Dave Love
Chart Positions: #10 US, #33 Norway, #39 Japan, #40 Spain, #41 Canada, #54 France, #59 Netherlands, #75 Switzerland, #75 Germany
Certifications: None
Metacritic Rating: 74 out of 100
Notes: For those who love jazz and R&B Esperanza Spalding is a gift. Her music is expertly keyed and reaches into the heart and soul of matters. This album shows the versatility in her music from Gospel to soul to blues to Big Band Swing to smooth jazz and pop. Guest appearances are made by jazz legends Jack DeJohnette and Billy Hart, the each contribute their masterful percussion work (DeJohnette on "Let Her" and Hart on "Hold On Me". Spalding does an affecting cover of Michael Jackson's "I Can't Help It", written by Stevie Wonder. 

 Esperanza Spalding - Hold On Me

 15. Donald Fagen - Sunken Condos
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Label: Reprise
Producer: Michael Leonhart, Donald Fagen
Chart Positions: #5 Norway, #10 Sweden, #12 US, #13 Netherlands, #22 Belgium, #23 UK, #36 Denmark, #46 Finland, #53 Germany, #59 Austria, #85 France
Certifications: None yet
Metacritic Rating: 82 out of 100
Notes: I have always been a fan of Steely Dan. I first heard them in 1974 when I was 14 and have loved them ever since. It was the song "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" that got me hooked. Of course when I heard Fagen was releasing a new album I was excited about it. This went to the top of my "must buy" list. I bought it the week it was released. His first three solo albums are great, but "Sunken Condos" may be my favorite of his solo work. I very much like the undertones of smooth funk grooves coupled with a tease of jazz influence. It makes for very pleasant pop music. I am especially enamored with Fagen's remake of Isaac Hayes' 1977 classic "Out Of The Ghetto". This album is all familiar territory for Fagen and the minions of his fans. "Sunken Condos" is completed with precision and a freshness that keeps this listener interested from beginning to end. 

An editorial on describes the album as; Donald Fagen's fourth solo album for Warner Reprise, Sunken Condos, will be released on October 16. His first three solo albums, The Nightfly, Kamakiriad and Morph the Cat comprised the project known as "The Nightfly Trilogy." Sunken Condos begins a chapter in the creative evolution of this innovative artist, whose career is still going strong after forty years.

 Donald Fagen - Out Of The Ghetto

14. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes (click for more)
Release Date: August 20, 2012
Label: 4AD
Producer: Kenny Gilmore
Chart Positions: #39 Norway, #136 US
Certifications: None yet
Metacritic Rating: 74 out of 100
Notes: Ariel Pink first came to my attention in 2010 with the album "Before Today". For some reason the album just did not catch on with me. It just did not appeal to me. When "Mature Themes" was released right away I went out and bought it on faith and I don't really know why considering the previous album did nothing for me. "Mature Themes" ended up being a pleasant surprise. The songs are eclectic yet reveal quite a bit of growth in the groups overall sound. "Mature Themes" is the beginning of better things to come from this group.


Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Driftwood

13. Lettuce - Fly
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Label: Royal Family Records / Velour Records
Producer: Lettuce
Chart Positions: #6 (US Jazz Albums)
Certifications: None yet
Metacritic Rating: No Rating
Notes: Old school funk, smooth grooves, chunky guitar chords and jazz beats bring this album to life in the way only a band from Boston, MA can do.

Fly - Ziggowatt

 12. The Megaphonic Thrift
Release Date: February 7, 2012
Label: Club Ac30 / Sonic Unyon
Producer: Jorgen Traeen
Chart Positions: None
Certifications: None yet
Metacritic Rating: 70 out of 100
Notes: The Megaphonic Thrift has quite a few traits that draw me to them. Upon reading their bio I was especially intrigued by the fact they're from Norway. I am always seeking bands from a country outside the US. Their music has an slight experimental edge to it as well as some killer guitar work. describes them as; "They make catchy melodies and then drench them in guitarnoise, best described as noisepop with shoegaze elements".

The Megaphonic Thrift - Tune Your Mind

11. Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts

Release Date: April 25, 2012
Label: Blue Note
Producer: Danger Mouse
Chart Positions: #1 Austria, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, #2 Canada, Denmark, France and US, #3 Czechoslovakia, Italy and Norway, #4 Sweden and UK, #5 Australia, Japan and Poland, #6 Scotland, #7 Finland and Hong Kong, #8 Hungary, #11 New Zealand and Spain, #12 Ireland and Russia, #13 Greece, #15 Portugal, #53 Mexico

Certifications: Gold: Belgium and Canada
Metacritic Rating: 69 out of 100
Notes: I remember watching Norah Jones perform live on the 45th Annual Grammy Awards (broadcast in February 2003). She just blew me away. It was just Norah with her voice and her piano. She was flawless. She sang every word perfect pitch and on-key. I hadn't heard a singer perform that well live (with no electronic enhancements) in a very long time. 2002's "Come Away With Me" became a big favorite for me. I went on to buy all her following releases, but until now with each album I became a bit less interested in her music. That's not to say her music isn't good. Every album she's released has been from outstanding to better than average, but still fall short of "Come Away With Me". "...Little Broken Hearts" does not reach the pantheons of "Come Away With Me", it does however infuse a breath fresh air into Norah's musical output. Norah has taken a welcome shift in direction with producer Danger Mouse (Broken Bells). Norah reaches a new level of emotional maturity in her vocal deliverance. This time around she injects an slight experimental edge to her songs. The Danger Mouse footprint is all over this album with hints of sounds he's created or used with other artists such as Broken Bells, The Black Keys and Electric Guest. I will go so far as to say that, with this album Norah's vocal abilities have evolved greatly from her last album 2009's "The Fall".

Norah Jones - 4 Broken Hearts

10. Jack White - Blunderbuss
Release Date: April 23, 2012
Label: Columbia
Producer: Jack White
Chart Positions: #1 Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, UK and US,  #2 Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, #5 France, #7 Poland, #12 Netherlands, #13 Japan, #20 Sweden, #26 Greece
Certifications: Gold: UK
Metacritic Rating: 84 out of 100
Notes: Jack White (White Stripes) reached for the stars with this album and successfully hit the mark. On top of being a critical success the album is also a huge commercial success making it into the Top 2 in eight countries and more. Jack White's solo album is more successful than any of his albums with White Stripes. As usual this album features White's unique take on music. The highlight of the album (for me anyway) is the awesome guitar work. Jack White proves he belongs with the best in the field, he will go down in history as one of this era's most significant musicians

 Jack White - Hypocritical Kiss

9. Deerhoof - Breakup Song
Release Date: September 3, 2012
Label: Polyvinyl, ATP Recordings
Producer: Deerhoof
Chart Positions: None
Certifications: None
Metacritic Rating: 78 out of 100
Notes: If you crave different, unique and one of a kind in your music than Deerhoof is for you. From San Francisco, this fab four puts together some of most unusual Noise Pop ever recorded. "Breakup Song" brings Deerhoof back with more of their usual quirky sounds this time with a heavy emphasis on electronic grooves and funky beats. Like all their albums you've really got to put a pair of headphones on and listen real close, there are a good amount of twists and turns going on in the music... and of course the guitars rock...

Deerhoof - We Do Parties

8. Minus The Bear - Infinity Overhead
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Label: Dangerbird, Big Scary Monsters
Producer: Matt Bayles, Minus The Bear
Chart Positions: #31 US
Certifications: None
Metacritic Rating: 67 out of 100
Notes: Crisp and clean is how I describe this Minus The Bear album. Minus This album doesn't pull any surprises and is fairly predictable. That given, "Infinity Overhead" excels as it is performed by a band who is musically able amongst any of their contemporaries and classics such as Yes, Rush, Genesis and U2. 

Minus The Bear - Cold Company 

7. Cat Power - Sun
Release Date: August 29, 2012
Label: Matador
Producer: Cat Power
Chart Positions: #5 Belgium, #7 France, #9 Germany, Denmark and Switzerland, #10 US, #11 Portugal, #12 Canada, #15 Sweden, #18 Norway and Spain, #21 Austria, #23 New Zealand, #26 Australia, #29 Italy, #33 Scotland and UK, #34 Finland, #46 Ireland, #49 Netherlands, #194 Japan
Certifications: None
Metacritic Rating: 78 out of 100
Notes: After waiting six years for new material by Cat Power she is back with "Sun" and delivers a winner. "Sun" showcases Cat Power's understated emotion as well as treating us to her commercial side. After seventeen years and nine studio albums Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) is now a international star "Sun" reaching the Top Fifteen in nine countries around the world.
 Cat Power - Human Being

6. Ceremony - Zoo
Release Date: March 5, 2012
Label: Matador
Producer: John Goodmanson
Chart Positions: #24 US Hard Rock Albums, #16 US Top Hotseekers
Certifications: None
Metacritic Rating: 71 out of 100
Notes: Ceremony is a true punk band. Not pop-punk like Green Day or Blink 182, but ferocious hardcore, straight ahead, crunch driven, power chord classic punk.  "Zoo" oftentimes sounds like it may have been inspired by Joy Division, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Circle Jerks and others from the era. Ceremony is a Bay Area band from California leading the way with a new brand of garage-rock... hopefully we'll see more bands like Ceremony. 
 Ceremony - Citizen

5. The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Label: Warner Brothers
Producer: Omar Rodriquez-Lopez
Chart Positions: #15 US, #18 Australia, #23 Finland, #25 New Zealand, #34 Norway, #47 Switzerland and Germany, #51 UK, #61 Netherlands, #66 Austria, #83 Spain, #90 Belgium, #130 France
Certifications: None
Metacritic Rating: 72 out of 100
Notes: Any release by The Mars Volta will always end up in my Top Albums Year-End List. Noctourniquet is one of The Mars Volta's strongest releases and could most possibly be their final release as the band is currently on hiatus - let's hear it for hoping it is a short hiatus. "Noctourniquet" moves into a psychedelic direction with hints of catchy hooks despite this the album is far from being predictable. There are interesting twists and turns throughout the entire album. One of my favorite tracks from the album is "Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound", the song ranges from Pink Floyd inspired guitar chords and a mellow thought provoking vocal working into a thrashing wall of noise and feedback. "Molochwalker" is another standout track with heavy drums and all consuming guitar chords that capture and keep you hooked.

The Mars Volta - Molochwalker

4. Joe Jackson - The Duke
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Label: Razor & Tie
Producer: Joe Jackson
Chart Positions: #21 Netherlands, #49 Germany, #70 Belgium, #93 US, #1 US Jazz
Certifications: None
Metacritic Rating: 59 out of 100
Notes: Several critics have panned this album saying Joe Jackson's renditions of Duke Ellington's classics strays too far from the originals. That precisely why I like this album. Joe Jackson combines modern day technology to these songs, which to my viewpoint make them quite intriguing. I really like his arrangement of "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing", in which he infuses an electronic beat to this high-steppin' swing tune. Overall I really enjoy this album and I am most enamored with Jackson's treatment of "Mood Indigo" and "Caravan".

Joe Jackson - It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't got That Swing

3. Crocodiles - Endless Flowers
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Label: Frenchkiss
Producer: Brandon Welchez, Charles Rowell, Duncan Mills
Chart Positions: #48 US Top Heatseekers
Certifications: None
Metacritic Rating: 66 out of 100
Notes: This album recalls the Cure, Joy Division, The Smiths and hints of Echo and the Bunnymen. "Endless Flowers is the San Diego, CA group's third studio album and was recorded in Berlin, Germany. The album is self produced with the two main band members (Brandon and Charles) putting most of the work in. The album is a great mix of power guitar chords, feedback, experimentation, rock and roll drum patterns and obscure sound effects. Crocodiles' music has been termed as Noise-pop, Lo-fi, Post Punk Revival and Psychedelic rock
Crocodiles - Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)

2. Floratone - Floratone II
Release Date: March 6, 2012
Label: Savoy Jazz
Producer: Tucker Martine, Lee Townsend
Chart Positions: #11 US Jazz Albums
Certifications: None
Metacritic Rating: No Rating
Notes: As a fan of jazz (primarily fusion, hard-bop and Free Jazz) I was excited when I first came across this disc. Honestly I was not familiar with Floratone, but it was Bill Frisell's name that got me interested. Frisell is a great jazz guitarist who has done a ton of outstanding work. I samples a few of the songs and quickly purchased the disc. Of course Frisell's guitar work alone is worth the price of the disc. But there is much more to this album than just Frisell. Each song creates it's own atmosphere full of great beats, dreamy keyboards and more than it's share of experimentation. Oh and did I mention the guitar work is fantastic!

Floratone II - The Bloom Is On

1. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Un Corazón de Nadie
Release Date: May 17, 2012
Label: Rodriguez-Lopez Productions
Producer: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
Chart Positions: No chart action
Certifications: None
Metacritic Rating: No Rating
Notes: Upon my first listen of this album I wasn't sure if I cared for it or not. It border lined on being possibly boring. But having a history with Rodriguez-Lopez's music I knew I would have to listen to it a few more times to really form a viewpoint. I gave the album a few more listens and interestingly with each listen I heard something I missed before. There are layers upon layers of sounds in these haunting melodies. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez from The Mars Volta bends and twists instruments and sounds to create new ones. The dark spacey sunth sounds and metallic rhythms make this album an industrial sort of "machine at work" sound. This is an electronic music masterpiece.  
Omar is really quite amazing. This is his 20th solo album (he's released 2 more since this one). Omar has to be the most prolific musician on the music scene these days. Since 2004 he has released 22 solo albums. He's also released live albums, collaboration albums. Since 1996 he has been on the music scene with his groups At The Drive-In, De Facto and The Mars Volta. "Un Corazón de Nadie" is a tribute to his mother, who died 2 months before the album was released. Omar plays every instrument heard on the album and recorded all the vocals. This is 100% Omar.

 Omar Rodriguez-Lopez - Ocho

Omar Rodriguez Lopez


Monday, September 3, 2012

Rock Music Post V: Cool Rockers - A Pictorial

A pictorial of a few of the coolest rockers (and some crooners)
... don't see your favorite cool rocker here... don't worry there will be a part two in the near future...

The Beatles
The Beatles were the epitome of "cool"... they still are...

"Strawberry Fields Forever"... one cool song...

David Bowie
David Bowie: The man of a thousand faces. From Ziggy Stardust to The Thin White Duke and finally worldwide super megastar.

"Space Oddity" influenced several songs in the future including Bowie's own "Ashes To Ashes" in 1980.


Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash known as "the man in black" mesmerized people with his inimitable style

"Walk The Line" is the song that brought Cash to fame and has remained one of his signature tunes.

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan energized an entire generation (and generations to come) with his songs dealing with social values, politics and religion.

"The Times They Are A Changin'" gave voice to the youth of the early 60's in a way no other singer/songwriter had before Dylan burst onto the scene.

Debbie Harry
Debbie Harry started a craze of punk chic which lasted long beyond her years as a chart topping hit maker.

"Heart Of Glass" took the airwaves by storm and was the first of four #1 hits for Debbie Harry with the group Blondie.

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix played guitar in ways no other guitarist played before him. He was an innovator whose experimentation with sounds and style were cut short when he passed away at the young age of 27 in 1970.

Purple Haze contains one of the most misheard lyrics ever, with "Scuse me while I kiss the sky" interpreted as "Scuse me while I kiss this guy." Hendrix added to the confusion by sometimes singing it that way and pointing to one of his band members.


Joan Jett
 Joan Jett epitomizes the "tough girl" image like none other.

 "I Love Rock And Roll" stayed at #1 for seven on the US Billboard charts and made this bad girl a superstar.

John Lennon
John Lennon was one of the great thinkers of the 20th Century. "Time you enjoyed wasting, was not wasted.

Lennon wrote and recorded several songs on the topic of "peace".

Elvis Presley
 Elvis Presley was the first rocker to make a major splash on the music scene. He paved the way for many to come.

Jailhouse Rock stayed at #1 on the US charts for seven weeks. It also reached #1 on the country and R&B charts.

Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra's voice has often been described as cool.

"It Was A Very Good Year" a classic Sinatra tune.

Bruce Springsteen
 The Boss has inspired many with his songs relating to "middle class" America.

"Fire" a song written by Springsteen which became a huge hit for the Pointer Sisters.


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