2012: 15 of the Best. #1 …

December 21, 2012

1. Dexys – You

From: One Day I’m Going To Soar
Released: June 4, 2012
Label: BMG
Buy it: Here

Apparently with age, Dexys realized they’re too old to be Midnight Runners and are satisfied being just the drugs themselves. It’s appropriate enough—One Day I’m Going To Soar is probably the best reunion album of the year and the antidote to all the other sh*t you took in this year. The fact that it stands up perfectly fine alongside their way-too-good three albums from the 1980s (they were so much more than “Come On, Eileen,” y’know) is great, but by this point, you probably knew that Kevin Rowland wasn’t going to settle for less. He’s had this song in the bank since at least 1993 (when he performed it under the title “If I Ever” on Jonathan Ross’ “Morning Zoo” show), so reason would argue that he was waiting for the right set of songs to frame it for public consumption. One Day I’m Going To Soar is full of truly great tunes, but none of them hit me as directly and instantly as “You.” It’s not as immense as “This is What She’s Like,” it’ll never be as ubiquitous as “Come On, Eileen” and it’s not as quirky as “Geno.” Still, it’s as soulful (and good) as any of them. The production is perfect: the drums put you right in the room with them, the strings swell and carry you along on the ride and Kevin’s lyrics and melody are just as fantastic as you’d hope they’d be. If you’re not thinking “Oh yeah …” right after that short piano intro, you might want to consult your doctor. The world didn’t end today because even the Mayans wanted to stick around to hear this again. Or so I’m told.


2012: 15 of the Best. #2 …

December 20, 2012

2. Edgar Summertyme – I Would Do Anything

From: Sense of Harmony
Released: August 16, 2012
Label: Viper
Buy it: Here

Edgar’s been a lot of things throughout his career. Decent Mick Jagger imitator, bassist extraordinaire for hire, surprisingly good black blues singer from the 1950s, long-haired heavy rocker and cosmic scouser to name a few. One thing he hasn’t really ever been is an upfront, plaintive balladeer. Maybe the penchant for putting on different guises (and being able to pull most of them off) kept him from writing a simple, direct love song or maybe his own battle with health problems recently put things into perspective, but there’s no question that “I Would Do Anything” is easily among the finest things he’s ever done and one of the greatest love songs of our (or any) time. Edgar was kind enough to chat with me a few months ago and talk about the inspiration behind this album (a steady diet of back-to-basics, good songwriting—the likes of the Beatles, John Sebastian and old Brill Building songwriters). Sense of Harmony, stylistically, is as mixed of a bag as most of his fine albums are. But songs-wise, you find yourself wanting to go back and listen again and again. And this song more than any makes you feel like that. It’s as much a first dance at a wedding as it is a tear-jerking song for a funeral. It’s as deeply steeped in vintage soul as it is Paul McCartney’s best qualities. Basically it’s the kind of thing to make you scratch your head for a couple hours as you wonder why the F*CK Coldplay are so popular.


2012: 15 of the Best. #3 …

December 19, 2012

3. The Beach Boys – Isn’t it Time

From: That’s Why God Made the Radio
Released: June 5, 2012
Label: Capitol
Buy it: Here

Yes, it’s a bit of a drag to look at the Beach Boys on December 19, 2012 and think “Mike Love’s an asshole,” then look back on what should’ve been a pretty good year for the band with all the same old pettiness that’s surrounded their name for I don’t even know how long now. The critical response to That’s Why God Made the Radio this summer was probably the most backhanded compliment to a band in a while (or, at least since Beady Eye’s debut), with it basically amounting to “Hey, wow! It doesn’t totally suck!” Some kind of perverse interest is going to make you want to listen to a group of 70-year-olds trying either to be fresh and original or trade in on the assets that made them popular when they were in their 20s, and with Brian Wilson more recently relying on covering Gershwin or Disney tunes, I don’t think expectations were going to be more than ankle-high. But honestly, the best thing I can say about the album (in a totally non-backhanded complimentary way) is that “Isn’t it Time” blew me away. Talking about Pet Sounds is old hat now. Same with SMiLE. Beach Boys fans like to puff out their chests and display their cred by trading titles of deep cuts off the likes of Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!), Friends, 20/20 and Sunflower. If “Isn’t it Time” had been on any of those albums, it’d be one of the songs those fans would enthuse about, and the fact that it’s on an album that’s probably going to be considered a novelty more than a proper record shouldn’t diminish the fact that for at least these 3 minutes and 51 seconds, the Beach Boys recaptured it. Almost too easily.


2012: 15 of the Best. #4 …

December 18, 2012

4. Divine Fits – Would That Not Be Nice

From: A Thing Called Divine Fits
Released: August 28, 2012
Label: Merge
Buy it: Here

I can’t consider Divine Fits a supergroup because I know little of Dan Boeckner’s Wolf Parade and even less about Sam Brown’s New Bomb Turks, so my main draw to this is being a Spoon fan and what Britt Daniel brings to the table. The good news about A Thing Called Divine Fits is that this cut and “Like Ice Cream” alone atone for the ramshackle affair that was Transference and left me a bit disappointed knowing that Spoon had done something to leave me so flat. Maybe a little changeup was necessary to freshen things up, and hopefully Spoon’s next one will be another barn burner, but if this is what’s there to hold me over ‘til then, I’m satisfied. “Would That Not Be Nice” sounds great every single time you put it on, with a bassline and groove that’s as good as Spoon’s  best (“Don’t You Evah,” “I Turn My Camera On,” “Take the Fifth”) and Britt’s excited yelping is as vague as ever ( … why Minneapolis?), but specificity has never been what’s so attractive about his songwriting. It’s more the way he sings it and the sound that surrounds it that makes it exciting. Which this undoubtedly is.

Official video:


2012: 15 of the Best. #5 …

December 17, 2012

5. Alejandro Escovedo – Man of the World

From: Big Station
Released: June 5, 2012
Label: Fantasy
Buy it: Here

Alejandro’s been working with famed produced Tony Visconti for three albums now, but it’s this year’s Big Station where the two finally seemed to achieve the vision they’ve been aiming for since Real Animal. I’ve been a big fan of Escovedo since his stunning 2001 album, A Man Under the Influence, and Big Station is easily the best selection of songs he’s put together since (this song’s guitar lick is also the best since “Castanets”). I think Spoon drummer Jim Eno also deserves some credit for his behind-the-desk work on the album, which makes it sound very in-your-face and tight. The funny thing is that it’s the great thing about rock and roll (and even punk that Escovedo grew up loving) that makes it work—simplicity. The chorus on “Man of the World” is simply Escovedo’s gang repeating “Oh yeah!” Elsewhere on the album, two-word choruses also play a prominent part, but there’s a fire and rumble in this particular track that just hooks you and makes you wanna boogie. He sounds excited and like he means it for the first time in a while. You could find songs here and there to love on his last decade’s worth of output, but “Man of the World” is the fabulous intro to a wholly satisfying album. That means a lot in an age where albums typically are less cohesive pieces than they should be.


2012: 15 of the Best. #6 …

December 14, 2012

6. Bob Dylan – Duquesne Whistle

From: Tempest
Released: September 11, 2012
Label: Columbia
Buy it: Here

Everyone goes on about the “resurgence” that Dylan’s been enjoying since 1997’s Time Out of Mind, but even when Bob was releasing his duffer albums in the 1980s, had he ever really gone away?  He’s kind of always there, and even if you’re not a fan of his not-great-to-begin-with-but-continually-diminishing vocal ability, there’s always a song or two here and there to make you go “wow.” The first time I heard Tempest, I was very excited. The second time, less stuck. Now there are three songs that I’ll go back to again and again, and the best of the lot is the opener, “Duquesne Whistle.” It’s the kind of train song the Old 97’s are continually trying to write and Dylan here (with the help of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter) tosses it off like it ain’t no thang. I don’t know if it’s the way the thing keeps chugging, that old-timey swing or the boyish wistfulness of the lyrics—the way she smiles through the fence, the wondering about the old oak tree, etc.—that’s pouring out of a man who sound more like death these days than a young buck, but this is the best tune Dylan’s cut since “Things Have Changed.” He’s found the right musical cradle for his voice and it sounds great.

Official video (and it’s brilliant):


2012: 15 of the Best. #7 …

December 13, 2012


7. Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine?

From: R U Mine 7”
Released: April 21, 2012
Label: Domino
Buy it: Here

Record Store Day’s become a little silly, hasn’t it? Lining up at ridiculous hours of the morning when the weather’s still hasn’t made the transition to a tolerable spring chill to beat a bunch of list-checker-offers who are just going to sell what they buy on eBay at inflated prices to get an album you probably already have, except, you know, now they have it on yellow vinyl … Well, yes, I was out there too. But as my friend Brad likes to say about going out drinking on St. Patrick’s Day or New Year’s Eve, it’s amateur hour. Only a handful of the items that are actually released on Record Store Day are actually new or unique songs or albums, yet we all go freezing our balls off in line at 4 a.m. because that old tagline of “Only 3,000 made!” means we gots to gets ours. Kudos to the Arctic Monkeys for at least delivering something unique and worth fighting for on this year’s Record Store Day. A limited edition purple vinyl (ooooh!) 45 of a song that was not an any of their albums but recorded specifically for release that day. AND a unique B-side too. Beyond just providing something truly unique though, they actually gave us a song that’s probably the best thing they’ve done since “Cornerstone.” This is a jagged little rock number that’s as verbose as most of Alex Turner’s work but catchy as sin and yet another entry into that overstuffed but valuable line of “she loves me, she loves me not” songwriting. Chances are I’ll be a complete idiot next year and line up early on Record Store Day again and hate myself for doing it and hate the whole concept even more. But if something as good as this is out there again, it’ll ease the sting.

Official video:


2012: 15 of the Best. #8 …

December 12, 2012


8. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Who

From: Love This Giant
Released: September 11, 2012
Label: 4 AD/Todo Mundo
Buy it: Here

I have no idea what this song is about exactly, I have no idea what the hell’s going on the video, I have no idea where this collaboration came from and I have no idea why I like this song so much. Well, actually, yes I do. It’s that horn bit. Grabs you from the intro and holds onto you while David and St. Vincent do their typical angular singing that makes this thing look like it should be a mess on paper, but perfectly coherent when you listen. Byrne’s been doing this long enough to be as good as he is at it. It sounds like a classic Talking Heads song, but it still sounds fresh and left-field of anything that’s out there today. Fabulous.

Official video:


2012: 15 of the Best. #9 …

December 11, 2012


9. Paul Weller – That Dangerous Age

From: Sonik Kicks
Released: March 27, 2012
Label: Island/Yep Roc
Buy it: Here

If you’re a traditionalist Weller fan that’s only found things here and there to like on 22 Dreams and Wake Up the Nation, this year’s Sonik Kicks probably didn’t bring you back to full-throatedly singing the man’s praises. That said, Weller’s been getting crazy amounts critical acclaim for those past two albums, so it’s logical that he’d stick to the “We’ll maybe put a proper song here, but some computer blips here, put an instrumental loop here and there, and I’ll freestyle sing over a bit of it and we’ve got the album” formula. Is it better than the stuff he was doing in the 1990s? I don’t think so, but hey, Paul Weller doesn’t do it to appease me or you, really. He does what he wants and really, he always has. Maybe now I know what hardcore Jam fans felt like when he put out the first Style Council EP. Nevertheless, there’s been something on each of the last three albums to make me go “The guy can still write a tune.” This time around it’s the early Who/Kinks pastiche “That Dangerous Age.” Apparently inspired by a recent review that suggested he was at that “dangerous age” where older dudes make wild attempts to stay relevant, he turned the criticism around and fired this back at all of us. Touche, sir. We should’ve seen that coming from the guy who wrote “Has My Fire Really Gone Out?”  This is as danceable and exciting as “I Can’t Explain,” which is more than I can say for a good chunk of Sonik Kicks. But I’ll take my pleasures when I can get them.

Official video:


2015: 15 of the Best. #10 …

December 10, 2012


10. Esperanza Spalding (feat. Algebra Blessett) – Black Gold

From: Radio Music Society
Released: March 20, 2012
Label: Heads Up
Buy it: Here

My main gripe with R&B in this day and age is that heavily-processed stuff like R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” or whatever CeeLo Green might be working on seems to be the first thing that comes to mind. You get your Raphael Saadiqs and Mayer Hawthornes who are trying to recapture a bit of that Motown/Stax magic that used to define what R&B was about, but those artists—popular though they may be—never quite get into the mainstream of collective consciousness. It was interesting to see Radio Music Society get the popularity it did this year, and the heavy use of (gasp!) real musicians playing real music to create a real groove got its due appreciation. “Black Gold” smolders with a groove that owes as much to funk as it does to jazz. Usually when you start doing these kinds of hybrid styles, you can alienate much of your audience, but you don’t have to be a music snob or be black to appreciate this song or the message. You just have to appreciate a good tune when you hear it.

Official video: