By Adam Hook
With so much good music out there, it’s hard to condense the overflowing talent into small categories, but 2012 has been a remarkable year, so I had to make a ‘best of 2012’ list in order to capture some of those bands that would normally be under most audience’s radar. We all have musicians that we follow and wait with baited breath for them to release new material. This list is an example of some of those records. Each inclusion here is an album that I was very excited for, not only because of the skill of each musician, but because these artists never disappoint. In addition, I wanted to make a list of artists that some of the readers of my submissions wouldn’t be familiar with. Each selection on this list composes music with more passion than anything you’ll hear on your local radio station and I hope that each of you give these artists a listen, and then form your own conclusions. Without further ado, let’s get on to the list.
NOFX has been playing Southern California punk rock for decades and their latest album is a continuation of the ear blasting, pulse pounding music that they’re known for. This record is not for the faint of heart and is geared more towards those that are familiar with NOFX, but if you’re open to fast guitars and banging drums, these guys are for you. I was excited about this album because NOFX has resided in my favorite artists list for some time and they have never released a bad record. Disclaimer: they are not exactly politically correct, so know that before pressing play on any of their releases. Standouts: She Didn’t Lose Her Baby, This Machine is 4, and Ronnie & Mags.
The Sheepdogs are a band that I wasn’t too familiar with before this year. I’ve heard their name continuously on the tongue of those that I respect, but I never got around to listening to them. When I did finally take the time to listen to them, I was instantly transported back to my childhood listening to my parent’s turntable. The Sheepdogs play rock that would have been easily accepted thirty years ago. Their self-titled release is amazing in its production and ability to cause an overwhelming need to get out of your seat, and move. The entire album is a standout and you would be doing your ears a favor by making The Sheepdogs part of your record collection.
Richmond, Virginia alt-country rockers Wrinkle Neck Mules are one of the best bands making music today. Not many people have heard of them because they don’t fit into a category that most mainstream audiences would appreciate. They are a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, but are in no way like the Osmonds. Apprentice to Ghosts is “rockier” than their previous releases and more approachable by the casual listener. Their brand of country is not what you’ll find being played on CMT in the near future, but their sound causes listeners to take notice. Their music has even been played in the background of a Geico commercial. They won’t be winning any Grammys, but they still deserve a listen. Standouts: When the Wheels Touch Down, On Wounded Knee, Apprentice to Ghosts, Parting the Clouds, and Central Daylight Time (Geico song).
New Orleans based folk-rock/pop outfit Hurray for the Riff Raff cannot be listened to just once. As if it had a mind of its own, your finger will find the repeat button several times before you absorb this entire record. The melody on each song causes the foot to tap uncontrollably and lead singer, Alynda Lee, will cause you to be a lifelong fan of anything she creates. Look Out Mama is one of my favorite albums released in a long time. As each song passes, the mind almost collapses on itself trying to understand how so much good music could be contained on ten tracks. The album flows like a greatest hits and I cannot wait to hear more from these talented musicians. Standouts: ALL OF THEM!!!!!
6. Tom VandenAvond – Wreck of a Fine Man
Tom VandenAvond is a traveling musician in the same vein as Woody Guthrie. His voice is dusted with the long stretches of road that he travels. He is a true songwriter and each composition is expertly crafted by a man that has seen it all. The stories that he writes could have been the narration to anybody’s life and that familiarity is one of the most appealing aspects of Tom VandenAvond. Folk music issues from his guitar like a warm breeze and each note embeds itself in your skin. Standouts: Wreck of a Fine Man, Lost Claim, Pawned All My Freedom, Busted Knuckles, and Anyway, I Gotta Go.
If you don’t like The Haunted Windchimes there is something wrong with you. As soon as their first notes hit the air, the atmosphere changes – becomes more comfortable. Their voices lull you into a state that feels almost hypnotic and the only thing you can do is listen. Out With the Crow is an album that will be hard to follow, but I know that, with the talent the Chimes possess, it sure will be fun to see what they do in the future. I recommend that you listen to Out With the Crow in its entirety and pay attention to your body as you do; you’re guaranteed to have a positive reaction. Standouts: Out With the Crow, There She Waits, Little Box, Hallelujah, Harvest, Say Yer Sorry, Darlin’ Love, and Giant. Please pick up this record. I promise you will not be disappointed.
Ryan Bingham was thrust into the spotlight when he won an Oscar for the soundtrack to the critically acclaimed motion picture, Crazy Heart. This attention hasn’t changed his music and he still writes amazing stories about redemption and loss. Tomorrowland is an outstanding record with each track better than the last. His songwriting is pure poetry and it surprises me when music lovers say they haven’t heard of this outstanding musician. My favorite aspect of Tomorrowland is that he has finally taken control of the production of his music. This means that the result is honest and heartwarming. Standouts: Beg for Broken Legs, Flower Bomb, I Heard ‘Em Say, Rising of the Ghetto, No Help from God, and Never Ending Show.
There are not enough words in the English language to explain how much I love The Sumner Brothers. I’ll Be There Tomorrow is their best work yet and it was a rival for, in my view, the best album of 2012. They create music that is heart wrenching in its beauty and with each track, that beauty becomes more blinding. The title of the record is a line from Townes Van Zandt’s song, Colorado Girl, which is included on this Sumner Brother release. Standouts: Going Out West, Colorado Girl, Outside Looking In, Lay You in the Grave, and That’s Alright. I cannot say anything more about this record. Listen to it, you’ll understand why.
The White Buffalo is easily in my top five favorite musicians. I’ve seen him live a couple times and he is one of the only artists that sound exactly the same live as he does on record. The energy that is felt at his concert blisters the record with each crushing melody. His voice booms over the record and each track is a standout. He writes songs that will clutch the listener by the heart, and will not let go until the final chord is struck. The album drifts like a Steinbeck novel through the listener’s consciousness; soaking each nerve ending in astonishing sound. If you get the chance to see The White Buffalo live, do it, but if you cannot, pick up any of his records, then sit back and enjoy.
Burn.Flicker.Die. is easily the best album of this year. The amount of devastatingly beautiful songs on this record is astonishing. B.J. Barham is a music lover’s songwriter. The theme of loss drives the record, but with some of the upbeat melody, it’s not obvious. The most shining example of this loss is the track Lonely Ain’t Easy. Barham writes about a difficult breakup after many years of happiness. He complains about the loss of his beloved record collection and the lyric “That diamond could cut through all the problems we had” exemplifies how the music lover was stronger than the romantic. Burn.Flicker.Die. will astonish even the most casual listener and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Please pick up the record.
This year has been a great year for music and the above list is an example of that greatness. Each of the musicians listed are excellent craftsman and should be in the public eye for talent alone. I recommend each of the above albums highly and I hope that you take the time with each one; allowing the music to seep in and do its work. After all, what’s the point of listening to music if you don’t allow it to become part of you? Thank you for reading and I hope that this submission sparks the interest for you to go out and discover music that you have never heard. Finding those hidden treasures gives you the freedom to become more decisive when selecting music; giving yourself the freedom to appreciate what you actually want to listen to, not what is popular.
About the Author:
Writing has been a passion of Adam Hook since he first read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Dostoyevsky’s words leapt off the page and Adam knew then that he had to be a writer! Adam is a father, husband, sometime poet and music junkie. Be sure and check out more of Adam’s writing on his blog, Soaked in Sound.