Every year, it becomes easier to indulge in nostalgia. With the 15th anniversary of Rooms By the Hour being celebrated by Rustic Overtones the day after Christmas, it's more than tempting to compare that album to this year's Let's Start a Cult. Does the latter have the former's white-hot glow? Has there been an infusion of the "dad rock" with which so many have painted Wilco?
NEVER BETTER Zach Jones had the best local album of 2012.
I will admit I'm far more likely to throw on Rooms or Long Division or Viva Nueva than Cult, just as Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born get many more spins than The Whole Love. But is that because I want to dial up a time when things seemed simpler and it was easier to love records more, when the onslaught of new music didn't threaten to keep any one record from capturing my attention for more than a few weeks?
So many of this year's good albums were nostalgia-triggering: Educated Advocates' Back to School made me pull out my Low End Theory; Royal Hammer's My Bubble had me reaching for The Harder They Come; Dustin Saucier's I Wrote a Letter demanded a full week of Transatlanticism.
But there were shiny new toys, too, like Spose's Audacity! (or Macklemore's Heist), that had a sound to fit the times, a controlled chaos infused with the digital swirl that threatens to drown us daily. The Other Bones' Hinges and Dean Ford's Ctrl and C Money Burns's Friends with Money truly seemed to push things forward. Even the Coalsack in Crux made things new with a post-blues/post-roots that felt newly raw just as Jeff Beam tried his hand at post-psych with the challenging and progressive Be Your Own Mirror.
Mosart212's PASSIVE/AGGRESSIVE is maybe all of the above in one, whirring digital amalgam of throwback sounds.
Personally, though, it's the rawness that seems to resonate ever more, a rejection of the digital age most reflected in the stringband revolution that produced such wonderful records like the Coloradas' self-titled debut and Dark Hollow Bottling Company's anthemic American Ghosts. This Way's Story of Simon Pure, Samuel James's And for the Dark Road Ahead, and Pete Kilpatrick's Heavy Fire rolled that kind of authenticity into narrative throwbacks, from the Dust Bowl plains to Delta shack to Civil War battlefields.
The Nogar Family Band threw us back in Family of Strangers to a past that may never have been. Whitcomb's Amber Tide made an old poet seem brand new.
Really, the year's best record said it best: Things Were Better. Zach Jones returned us to a '60s soul where everything seemed possible and things still were looking up. It made you want to sing along, hold your lover's hand, wear a nice suit, and look fucking sharp as hell. Kurt Baker did basically the same thing, but with a pair of Chuck Taylors on.
Such are the meanderings I couldn't help following as I went through the 76 releases I reviewed this year (and quite a few others) to put together yet another list of the year's top 10 albums and top 5 EPs. Criteria? Same as always: Albums are ranked by originality, musicianship, how long something from the record lasts in my head, the number of plays they got on the iPod, whether they contain a truly outstanding song, and some consideration for production value and the quality of the listening experience.Best albums of 2012
Zach Jones, Things Were Better
Spose, The Audacity!
The Coloradas, The Coloradas
Whitcomb, Amber Tide
Sara Hallie Richardson, Restless
Kurt Baker, Brand New Beat
Rustic Overtones, Let’s Start a Cult
Coalsack in Crux, Before, After, Forever, and Always
Snaex, Creep Down
Dark Hollow Bottling Company, American GhostsBest EPs of 2012
Theodore Treehouse, Theodore Treehouse
The Other Bones, Hinges
Sunset Hearts, Deco Tech
Endless Jags, Endless Jags
Dean Ford, Ctrl