Lee Ranaldo steps out to the head of the class in 2012
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Earlier this year, I made a mix CD for a friend of some new stuff I'd been listening to. Without real regard for style and just grabbing what I liked, a common theme started to stand out, and I titled the disc appropriately:
“New Music From Old Guys.”
While there was plenty of good new stuff from new folks, 2012 struck me as an unusually strong year for the veterans, guys who have been toiling over six strings for a while who, for one reason or another, found inspiration and rejuvenation. It’s certainly a refreshing turn, with music made for music’s sake rather than cash-in nostalgia. And this year, age and experience didn't seem to matter as much as desire.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Lee Ranaldo — Between the Times and the Tides
Finding himself without the company of his Sonic Youth mates, Ranaldo turned out his first solo collection of songs, and the results were stunning. Where his songs had always punctuated the main theme by Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon in the past, here they create a collage of guitars and abstract lyrics that are absolutely gripping. The standout is “Xtina as I Knew Her,” a seven-minute march through Ranaldo’s subconscious.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR
Beachwood Sparks — The Tarnished Gold
After a decade away, Los Angeles’ heirs to the thrones of the Flying Burrito Brothers returned with a set that took their cosmic country and added the weight of maturity and reflection. Hearing those voices and guitars intertwine and twang was certainly a welcome surprise this summer. But it was a great bunch of songs that made it a keeper.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR
Bruce Springsteen — “We Take Care of Our Own”
Following the well-intentioned yet inconsistent Working on a Dream in 2009, Springsteen came roaring back this year with the excellent Wrecking Ball. It was all led off with “We Take Care of Our Own,” a stinging single that called out the inaction of the U.S. authority on the nation’s poor and disenfranchised. It’s an area where Springsteen has always excelled, and here he sounds as fiery as he did post 9/11 on The Rising.
For an added dose of relevancy, the song became something of a theme for President Barack Obama as he worked his way to re-election in November.
CONCERT OF THE YEAR
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band — Aug. 15, Fenway Park, Boston
In support of Wrecking Ball, Springsteen brought the E Street Band back on the road and re-introduced his American audience with the three-plus-hour marathons that had become the norm for him in the early and late 1980s. It was also a chance for me to finally see Springsteen in concert, and from the opening strains of “Thunder Road,” accompanied only by his harmonica and Roy Bittan’s piano, it was a night of the most thrilling rock and roll possible, carrying on well past Kenmore Square’s curfew.
BEST ARCHIVAL RELEASE
Ryan Adams — Live After Deaf
Adams returned to the road in 2011 after a prolonged break from music, playing songs from across his career and previewing his Ashes & Fire record in solo shows across Europe. The entire endeavor has been cataloged on the massive, 15-LP collection Live After Deaf, and if you were lucky enough to get one of the vinyl box sets on its release, you missed out on having to pay a four-figure sum for the physical set. It lives on digitally however, available as 15 individual collections or one massive download.
BEST OF THE REST
Dinosaur Jr. — I Bet On Sky
Expanding their noise-heavy sound with touches of keyboards here and there, Dinosaur Jr. put out their most energetic effort since reforming in 2005. While the leadoff single “Watch the Corners” is likely the best song here, don’t look past Lou Barlow’s rollicking contribution, “Rude.”
Japandroids — Celebration Rock
Loud, raw and uninhibited, the Vancouver duo grow up in the sense that their blasts of rock are tighter and hit the gut more powerfully than on their debut. But they don't polish their sound much; they're just better at what they do.
Mark Lanegan Band — Blues Funeral
Lanegan brought his bizarre vision of the blues back after an eight-year hiatus, and he was as creepy and haunting as ever. He stretches out with synth beats on “Ode to Sad Disco,” but makes his bread and butter on chilling dirges like “St. Louis Elegy.”
Father John Misty — Fear Fun
J. Tillman takes the Laurel Canyon sound that Neil Young rode to so much success in the After the Goldrush era to a surprising place, bringing out the rootsy best of the region without the excess that tarnished it. It's not just 1970s California, either — "Writing a Novel" has that gallop of John Lennon's "The Ballad of John and Yoko," too.
Jack White — Blunderbuss
In his first outing without the protection of one of his many bands, he assembled an old-fashioned collection of songs with the help of his Nashville friends and neighbors. The “Oooh!” backing vocals on “I’m Shakin’” are worth the price of admission alone.
Best Coast — The Only Place
Exposure and success gave Best Coast the chance to trade in some of the stripped-away charm of their debut album for a sunnier sheen on The Only Place, but it doesn't sound like a sell out as much as a natural step. Still catchy, the bright production matches the songs.
Bob Mould — Silver Age
Back in a trio and channeling the craziest moments of Sugar, Mould shook off the dust and let rip a record that showed he’s still as edgy and powerful as ever. I'm sure the folks at Merge were happy to hear him deliver such a statement his first time out with his new label.
REST IN PEACE
Mark Lanegan Band — “Methamphetamine Blues,” May 13, Paradise Rock Club, Boston
After about two hours of basking in Mark Lanegan’s towering, terrifying presence at the Paradise in Boston, I was already in a great place. He channels blues and soul with an edge unlike anyone this side of Tom Waits, marrying doom and longing for a pairing that is truly all his own.
All that was amplified (literally) when, for the last song when he and his band blasted off on “Methamphetamine Blues.” I could feel my face melting off while the bass and guitars stuttered through that horrific riff. It was all topped off by Lanegan’s shotgun growl, and a few minutes later I was walking out of the club and onto Commonwealth Ave. dizzied and thrilled.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org