Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012 Music Review: Part 2

Continued from Part 1. My top 25 albums of 2012.

25. Tenacious D: Rize of the Fenix 
THE FUCKIN' D IS BACK!!! Those words are pretty much the rallying cry for the third official album from comedic metal masters Tenacious D. Rize of the Fenix largely finds JB and KG taking on progressive rock and largely succeeding. The title track is an epic self mythologizing jam the likes no other band on earth can pull off. "Low Hanging Fruit" is fantastic tale of lowered sexual expectations, "Roadie" is a fine tribute to the unsung heroes of the rock world and the closing Neil Diamond influenced "39" is a filthy look at aging love . Consistently vulgar, always irreverent amd also rockin' like crazy (thanks in large part to studio drummer Dave Grohl), Rize of the Feniz is one of the best hard rock albums of the year. 

24. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Meat and Bone
See that cover? It looks like a ballsack. That's a pretty accurate description of the first Blues Explosion album in 8 years. Spencer's music has always lacked subtlety but Meat and Bone takes it to a whole new level. The album is a nonstop aural onslaught designed to get into you nether regions and make you shake you ass. "Bag of Bones," "Boot Cut" and "Danger" are straight gut punches while "Get You Pants Off" and "Bottle Baby" are more groove orientated but still full of vigor. The album peters out a bit toward the end but by that time the listener has probably been beaten into submission anyway (I mean this as a complement BTW).

23. Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls
From all accounts Alabama Shakes are a tremendous live band (I have not had the privilege) but their debut album is pretty sensational as well. It might be lacking in some fire that occurs on stage but there's enough passion and energy to see how this material would translate marvelously to the stage. It's easy to say that Brittany Howard is this generations Janis Joplin but the comparison is so obvious it has to be made. The music both rocks and rolls, gives shakes and has soul but Howard is the real star here. 

22. Graham Parker & the Rumour: Three Chords Good
The first Graham Parker album to feature his old backing band The Rumour since 1980 isn't all that different than most of Parker's recent solo material but it does just feel right to have them back together (whoever came up with the cover art on the other hand should never be allowed to make that decision again). Whether they're playing reggae ("Snake Oil Capitol of the World"), basic shuffles ("She Rocks Me") or rocking out ("Coathangers") Parker and the Rumour feel like they've never been apart. Three Chords Good is a bit more reflective and not nearly as angry as the music from the bands early days but there's still plenty of life left in this long awaited reunion.

21. Patterson Hood: Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance
Hood's third solo album plays like a low key Drive-By Truckers affair but manages to find a unique voice all the same. Based on an unfinished novel about divorce Hood wrote years ago. Heat Light tows the line between depressing and informative throughout but ultimately manages to be uplifting. Hood's lyrical imagery  has always been his strong suit and that is no different here. Whether painting a portrait of a man dealing with pain ("Leaving Time"), resignation ("Better Off Without") or depression ("Depression Era") Hood makes it all seem true and real. The music is stripped down and bare adding more significance to the lyrics and the result is a cohesive statement that reveals new turns at every listen. 

 20. Jack White: Blunderbuss 
Jack White's first solo album is real good. I like it a lot when I;m lstening to it. The problem (and this is true of pretty much everything White has ever been involved with for me) is that it just doesn't stick in my brain when it's not playing like it should. So while ""Sixteen Saltines," "I'm Shakin,"  "Weep Themselves to Sleep" and "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy" sound great while they're on, they just don't have a lot of staying power. Lot's of people probably love Blunderbuss but for me it's only a (strong) like.

19. Dr. John: Locked Down
On Locked Down the good Dr. revisits his Night Tripper personality for the first time since the early 70's the and with a lot of help from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the results are great. The music is swampy, psychedelic  voodoo funk. The songs are great, the production is even better and the Dr. is in fine voice throughout. Whether singing about "Revolution," being a "Big Shot" or getting spiritual ("My Children. My Angels," "God's Sure Good") everything works. Locked Down is a great comeback for the Night Tripper.

18. Jimmy Cliff: Rebirth
Jimmy Cliff has made a lot of forgettable albums since the days of The Harder They Fall and so it's good to see Rebirth live up to it's title. With producer Tim Armstrong (Rancid) in the fold, there are no real attempts at pop crossover or dancehall (with the possible exception of "Bang") and the focus remains on straight roots reggae. "World Upside Down" "One Love" and "Reggae Music" are all new reggae classics while the covers of The Clash ("Guns of Brixton") and Rancid ("Ruby Soho") are very successful reinterpretations. Cliff's tenor still has the power to move as shown on "Cry No More" and "Ship is Sailing" and hopefully he'll continue to make this type of music going forward.   

17. Off!: Off!
16 songs in less than 20 minutes is not you typical full length album but then again, Off! isn't your typical band. Fronted by Keith Morris (Circle Jerks, Black Flag) and featuring members of Burning Brides, Redd Kross and Rocket From the Crypt, Off! blasts through the 16 tracks of 80's style hardcore and finishes before you know what hit you. There ins't a more purely visceral album released this year and even if it's as short as albums get, you can always turn the record over and start again.

16. Redd Kross: Researching the Blues
Speaking of Redd Kross, the veteran pop-punk jokesters release their first album in 12 years and perhaps their best ever in Researching the Blues. "Stay Away From Downtown," "One Of the Good One's" "The Nu Temptations" and "Choose to Play" are all power pop gems while the title track proves they can still rock. The stabs at balladry ("Dracula's Dughter") and psychedelia ("Hazel Eyes") aren't quite as great but they don't drag the album down either. Of all the albums on the list this one is the one that grew on me the most throughout the year. Great stuff.

15. Nada Surf: The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy
Nada Surf has been cranking out first rate power pop their entire career and The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy might be their best work yet. Sticking to the simple formula of pretty guitars and vocals with a lot of energy and a willingness to speed the tempo is a good bet for success and Nada Surf pulls it off, big time. "Clear Eyes, Clouded Mind," "Waiting for Something," and "Looking Through" are all uptempo standouts while "Jules and Jim" and "No Snow On the Mountain" have huge hooks (really every track has huge hooks but these two stand out). The album bristles with joy and sincerity throughout making it one of the best pop albums of the year.  

14. Dr. Dog: Be the Void
Speaking if joyful, that's the best way to describe the latest from Dr. Dog. Be the Void is guitar based indie pop at it's finest. Largely forgoing the Beach Boys influences that have been dominating their last few albums, Dr. Dog (relatively) crank up the guitars and rock out. "These Days," "That Old Black Hole" and "Vampire" are heavier than a vast majority of the bands music and there's an overall looser and more shambolic nature to Be the Void than the band usually delivers. That's not to say they've abandoned their pop aspects at all. Every track features immaculate harmonies and precise instrumentation, it just comes off as a more organic live feel than usual. This is my favorite side of Dr. Dog and one I hope they continue down the road.

13. Justin Townes Earle: Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
Justin Townes Earle try's his hand at soul on Nothing's Gonna Change... and while it takes a little while to sink in, once it does Earle's fine songwriting comes to the forefront. "Look the Other Way" "Memphis in the Rain," "Baby's Got a Bad Idea" and "Maria" are all upbeat soul rock while "Am I That Lonely Tonight," "Lower East Side" and the title track are perfect songs to curl up next to a fire to (or so I've been told by people with access to fireplaces). Earle's talent shines throughout and the only real complaint is that the album's just too damn short. Better to leave 'em wanting more than to stay too long I guess.

12. The Coup: Sorry To Bother You
The Coup have been making funk inspired political hip-hop for a long time now and the world of Boots Riley is one of anger, societal failings and yes, humor in spite of it all. Sorry To Bother You finds Boots employing a full band for the first time (at least for an entire album) and branching out into different genre's. There's stabs at dance ("Magic Clap"), rock ("Land of 7 Billion Dances), balladry (We've Got A Lot To Teach You Cassius Green") and the worlds first kazoo based rap song ("Your Parents Cocaine). There's still plenty of funk to go around ("The Guillotine," "You Are Not a Riot", "Strange Arithmetic") and Boots' commentary is both thought provoking humorous. There isn't a better album this year when it comes to simultaneously shaking your ass and flexing your mind.

11. P.O.S.: We Don't Even Live Here Anymore
P.O.S. takes his best claim yet as Minneapolis' finest hip-hop artist with We Don't Even Live Here. This is still the indie rock influenced hip-hop we've come to expect from P.O.S. but there are more nods to mainstream rap than he's ever used before ("Where We Land," "They Can't Come," ""Get Down"). This is certainly not an attempt at selling out for crossover appeal just to assuage fears. Oh yeah, "Fuck Your Stuff" is pretty awesome.

10. Dwight Yoakam: Three Pears
Dwight Yoakam made his name by playing traditional style country music (although with a heavy rock influence) but Three Pears is anything but traditional country. Yoakam's music will always have a country feel due to the natural twang in his voice but there's way more music owing to power-pop and soul influences than anything else. Whether it's the motown influenced bass of "Take Hold Of My Hand," the raucous cowpunk cover of "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke," or the two different versions of "Long Way To Go" (the closing piano ballad version is phenomenal), Yoakam stretches out more than any other album in his career and comes up with one of his best.

9. Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball
Bruce Springsteen Irish folk rocker? That seems to be the general direction of Wrecking Ball as "Easy Money," "Shackled and Drawn," "Death To My Hometown" and "We are Alive" could all pass as Pogues covers. Of course Bruce is never gonna leave anthemic rock off the table as "We Take Care of Our Own," "Land of Hope and Dreams" and the title track prove. Only a slightly misguided attempt at incorporating hip-hop ("Rocky Ground") fails to work and while Wrecking Ball isn't first rate Springsteen, his 2nd rate stuff is still pretty fantastic.

8. Lucero: Women and Work
Lucero toyed around with their hometown Memphis signature soul sound on 2009's excellent 1372 Overton Park and go the extra mile and complete the cycle on Women & Work.There's a full blown horn section, soulful rhythms, and Ben Nichols voice is smoother sounding than it's ever been. None of that really matters because for all the sound adjustments this is still unmistakably a Lucero album. "Juniper," "Like Lightning" and the title track are all excellent upbeat rockers while "On My Way Downtown" and "Who You Waiting On" are great representations of Nichol's pleas for female companionship and alcohol (which, like all Lucero albums, is the main lyrical content). Lucero has always been great with the ballads as well and "It May Be Too Late" and "When I Was Young" definitely don't disappoint. The album ends with the gospel influenced "Go Easy" which is a great way for the band to close the newest chapter of their sound.

7. JD McPherson: Signs & Signifiers
This one is kind of a cheat since the album was originally released in 2010 but I didn't hear it until it was reissued this year and really it's just too damn good to not include. JD does souped up 50's rock better than anyone I've heard in a long time. "North Side Gal," "Fire Bug," "Scratching Circles" and "I Can't Complain" all conjure up the ghosts of Little Richard and/or Fats Domino (yes I realize neither are dead) but with McPherson's modern guitar licks also playing a central role. "You're Love (All I'm Missing)" showcases JD's formidable vocal skills. The cover of "Country Boy" manages to sample both the Wu-Tang Clan and Ruth Brown which pretty much sums up the album. McPherson s not afraid to bring modern influences into his retro sound and the result is a album that not only rocks, it really rolls as well.

6. Dan Vapid and the Cheats: Dan Vapid and the Cheats
This. Is. Pop-Punk. Dan Vapid has been making music for a number of different bands for the last 20 years (Screeching Weasel, The Riverdales, The Methadones) and with Dan Vapid and the Cheats, he's made a record that culminates all his strengths into one fantastic blend. No one writes simple, sing-a-long punk as well as Vapid and "Torture Chamber," "Beware of the Fog," "Just Like Cleopatra," "Baby, Baby Get Over Yourself" and "Good Enough" are all first rate tracks guaranteed to get stuck in your head. Vapid also branches out and shows off new wave ("Devo on Speed") and doo-wop (Girl Group) influences. There isn't an album I listened to more times this year than Dan Vapid and the Cheats. This is a phenomenal record.

5. The Gaslight Anthem: Handwritten
It was always inevitable that the Gaslight Anthem would blow up and become a popular mainstream band. They're just too catchy, heartfelt and basically too good not to. Kicking off with my favorite song of the year in "45" and rarely letting up until the acoustic closer "National Anthem," Handwritten runs the gamut from their traditional Jersey punk ("Handwritten," "Howl," "Desire") to mid tempo sing-a-longs ("Here Comes My Man," "Mae") and stomping hard rock ("Mulholland Drive," Biloxi Parish," "Too Much Blood"). The middle of the album bogs down a bit with too many of the latter in a row but that's really the only possible complain. Brian Fallon's lyrics are still heartfelt and his voice remains the band's ultimate weapon. Handwritten ensures that the Gaslight Anthem's career path will keep trending upwards. If all mainstream rock was still this good people might not say the radio was dead.

4. Bob Dylan: Tempest
I doubt there's anyone else on earth who would dream to write a 14 minute song about the Titanic (let alone one that has no chorus) but Bob Dylan (or Tim Heidecker I guess but that's more of a preemptive parody). While "Tempest" is certainly the most interesting song on Dylan's 35th studio album, it's far from the best (but it's really good). Showing no signs of aging apart from the beautifully ragged instrument that his voice has become, Tempest continues Dylan's late career resurgence with another great batch of roots rock and blues. "Duquesne Whistle," "Pay in Blood" and "Narrow Way" are some of the best upbeat songs Dylan has written since Love and Theft. "Early Roman King's" continues Dylan's streak of "stealing" beats from old blues songs ("Mannish Boy") but turning them on their head to make them his own while "Soon After Midnight" "Long and Wasted Years" and "Roll on John" are beautiful ballads. Lyrically, the specter of death looms large over all of Tempest but it doesn't stop Dylan from making jokes throughout the album and keeping it from becoming overwhelming. Bob's been on quite the roll the last 15 years and Tempeststands up with the best work of his career.

3. The Menzingers: On the Impossible Past
The Menzingers had made a couple albums of decent to pretty good melodic hardcore in the past but nothing could have prepared me for On the Impossible Past.This is an album of heart on the sleeve punk rock dealing with life, love and loss. It's simultaneously melodic, intricate and completely addictive. From the opening chords of "Good Things" until the gloriously bleak closer "Freedom Bridge," The Menzingers grab you and pull you in and don't let go. Whether it's the interplay between the guitars on "Mexican Guitars" or the vocals on "Burn After Writing" the bands songwriting and performance are amazing. "Gates," "Casey" and "The Obituaries" are all among my favorite songs of the year and there's a not a bad one to be found here. The album's flow is impeccable and there's a slight narrative that runs throughout and lends weight upon repeated listens. If the Menzingers keep improving at this rate who knows what they'll have in store for us down the road.

2. Bob Mould: Silver Age
As awesome and influential as Husker Du was, I can'e deny that I like Bob Mould's 90's band Sugar more. Silver Age is Mould's re-visitation of that type of music and the result is the most purely enjoyable solo album of his career. Mould and his band (drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy) rock out with big pop hooks, buzzsaw guitars and breakneck tempos. The songs alternate from the angry ("Star Machine," "Silver Age,") to the reflective ("Briefest Moment," "Angel's Rearranging"), the beautiful ("First Time Joy") and the flat out joyous ("The Descent" "Keep Believing"). Based on Mould's career path it will be surprising if he ever makes an album similar to this again but if this is his heavy power-pop swan song, it's a helluva way to go out.

1. Japandroids: Celebration Rock
Sometimes an album's title completely encompasses the music that lies within. This is certainly the case with Japandroid's sophomore album. 8 songs, 35 minutes of pure, high powered joy. The rush of exuberance that comes from cranking up songs like "The Nights of Wine and Roses," "The House That Heaven Built," "Evil's Sway" and "Fire's Highway" is unmatched by any other music released this year and it's not even close. The cover of the Gun Club's "For the Love of Ivy" fits perfectly and is a great choice for the album. There's not much in the way of a reprieve of as the album is one long adrenaline rush but the closing "Continuous Thunder" does slow things down just enough to keep Celebration Rock from being overwhelming. This is just amazing, energy and hook filled indie rock that sounds like it's built for stadiums. It's hands down the best album of the year.

For anyone interested in checking out a collection of songs from my list as well as a few others, here's a Spotify playlist that allows you to do just that!!! What service!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012 Music Review: Part 1

So it's been a while. Probably gonna be a lot of spelling and formatting errors. Deal With it. Let's get right into my year in music.

Honorable Mentions:
The Heavy: The Glorious Dead
Shooter Jennings: Family Man
Lambchop: Mr. M
Madness: Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da
Rhett Miller: The Dreamer
The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth
Murder By Death: Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon
Patti Smith: Banga
Joey Ramone: "...Ya Know"
The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band: Between the Ditches
Riverboat Gamblers: The Wolf You Feed
Royal Headache: Royal Headache
Ryan Bingham: Tomorrowland
Ty Segall Band: Slaughterhouse
Soundgarden: King Animal
The Wallflowers: Glad All Over
The Walkmen: Heaven
The Whigs: Enjoy the Company

Best Reissue

Sugar: Copper Blue/Beaster & File Under Easy Listening

Merge Records really killed it this year in reissues. The Archers of Loaf ones were fantastic but take a back seat to their work on Sugar's catalog. Copper Blue is one of the greatest albums of the 90's and with it's beefed up sound (you can actually hear David Barbe's bass) and excellent packaging this is THE must own reissue of 2012.

Best Live Album

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Live From Alabama

\Live From Alabama features many of Isbell's finest songs ranging from his time with the Drive-By Truckers to his excellent solo work. The sound is impeccable, the additional horn section is perfect and the final result is the best live album of the year.

The Top 50 (26-50)

50. Soul Asylum: Delayed Reaction

The lineup is almost completely different but Soul Asylum hasn't sounded this alive since Grave Dancer's Union. The rockers ("Gravity," "The Streets") are the highlights but aside from a few unremarkable tracks, Dave Pirner and company are back on track.

49. Tony Sly & Joey Cape: Acoustic Vol 2

The second volume of acoustic versions of "hit" songs from Lagwagon's Joey Cape and the late (R.I.P.) Tony Sly (No Use For A Name) isn't much different than the first but still features top notch versions of some of both artists best known work. Worth it just to hear the (presumably) last stuff Sly will ever release.

48. Suburban Legends: Day Job

If you're the kind of person who would enjoy sunny ska covers of Disney songs (":Just Can't Wait To Be King, Under the Sea) then you'll likely enjoy the hell out of Day Job. If that sounds like the worst thing you've ever heard, then stay far, far away from this album and this band.

47. Guided By Voices: Let's Go Eat the Factory, Class Clown Spots a UFO, The Bears For Lunch

The ever prolific Robert Pollard (with a lot of fantastic assists from Tobin Sprout) managed to release 3 albums worth of music with the newly reunited Guided By Voices. In typical GBV fasion, there's a lot to love  balanced out by an insane amount of filler and half songs. That's almost always been the point of GBV anyway but a better filter could have been used. Still there;'s enough great music spread throughout all 3 albums to keep fans happy. 

46. Matt Skiba & the Sekrets: Babylon

Babylon sounds a lot like Skiba's work with Alkaline Trio and this is both a good and bad thing. Staying in his wheelhouse allows for fantastic sing a long's like "Voices" and "All Fall Down" but it also allows Skiba to completely rip himself off Fogerty style on ""Falling Like Rain." Just because you add a layer of synth to "The American Scream" from  2010's This Addiction doesn't make it much of a new song. Still a quality album for fans of Alkaline Trio.

45.Reel Big Fish: Candy Colored Fury

On Candy Colored Fury Reel Big Fish make a outright attempt to recreate the sound that made them one hit wonders in the first place. Fast and largely angry ska may be out of style but RBF are still able to pull off high quality tracks like "Everyone Else is an Asshole" and "I Dare You To Break My Heart." There's definitely a feeling of RBF by the numbers here and a couple tracks that should have remained on the cutting room floor but the overall effort is solid.

44. The White Wires: White Wires III
White Wires III is another solid set of melodic garage punk straight from Canada. Tracks like "Everywhere You Were," "And Then You Told Me" and "Let's Start Over Again" certainly don't rewrite any rule books but they are fun, catchy and energetic. There's a bit more of a pop feel here than on the bands previous releases but the result is very similar and well done.

43. And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead: Lost Songs
Lost Songs is ...Trail of Dead's best album in years . A great balance between hardcore ("Up to Infinity," "Catatonic"), melodic ("Lost Songs," "Heart of Wires") and a mix of both ("Open Doors" "Pinhole Cameras") is present throughout the album. It bogs down a bit in the middle but manages to overcome that issue with energy and passion.

42. Diamond Rugs: Diamond Rugs
This indie rock "supergroup's" debut album is a loose ramshackle affair that relies much more on energy and fun than craftmanship. The album is held together by the gleefully juvenile songs of Deer Tick's John McCauley ("Gimmie a Beer," "Hungover and Horny,"). The other members bring decent songs to the table but the material is a bit inconsistent. Still any album with the horn driven "Call Girl Blues" is well worth checking out. 

41. Classics of Love: Classics of Love 

The latest band from ex Operation Ivy frontman Jesse Michaels is a (surprise!) hardcore ska/punk band. While it's firmly in Jesse's career wheelhouse, there's tons of energy and passion along with enough hooks to make Classics of Love a more than respectable entry in Michael's on again, off again career.

40. The Avett Brothers: The Carpenter
The Avett Brothers continue to branch out and the results are generally top notch. There's still plenty of Appalachian folk ("The Once and Future Carpenter," "February Seven," "A Fathers First Spring") but the real highlights are the banjo driven "Live and Die," the 60's pop of "I Never Knew You" and the Beatlelesque "Pretty Girl From Michigan." Only the awesomely titled but fairly uninteresting alt rock of "Paul Newman vs. the Demons" disappoints but it's hardly enough to seriously hurt the album.

39. The Bouncing Souls: Comet
The Bouncing Souls may be slowing down a bit in both time between albums and the actual speed of the songs but I doubt most fans will care as long as the band keeps turning out solid, sing-a-long punk like this. "Fast Times" and "Static" are vintage Souls while "Coin Toss Girl" and "In Sleep" slow down the tempo but will stick in your head for days. The mindless fun aspects are more hit ("DFA") and miss ("We Love Fun") but overall Comet is another solid album from the punk vets.

38. Hot Water Music: Exister
Chuck Ragan takes a break from his solo folk career to revive his old hardcore emo band and you'd hardly know they'd been away. Ragan's and co lead singer Chris Wollard's voices are even more ragged than they used to be but their passion and energy haven't been diminished at all. "Mainline," "State of Grace," "Exister" and "Paid in Full" rock with force and vigor. The album never really lets up with only "No End Left in Sight" offering a slight reprieve from the onslaught. Here's to hoping HWM sticks around for awhile.

37. Dinosaur Jr: I Bet on Sky
I Bet on Sky marks a slight sonic adjustment for Dinosaur Jr. J Mascis' guitar isn't nearly as overpowering as most of the bands work but his solo's are still something to behold. "Don't Pretend You Didn't Know," "Watch the Corners" and "Pierce the Morning Rain" are worth the price of admission themselves.

36. Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music
I'm not very good at writing about hip-hop. I do know when something is good. This is good. That is all.

35. Local H: Hallelujah I'm a Bum
Local H seems intent on keeping the concept album alive and well in this singles driven day and age. Hallelujah I'm a Bum, rocks hard from start to finish while taking a largely bi-partisan look at the failings of America's political system. There's lots of blame to go around in Scott Lucas' view and he's not afraid to tell it on heavy tracks like "They Saved Reagan's Brain," "Here Come's Ol' Laptop" and "Blue Line." Hard rock is the main focus here as it is in all of Local H's music but the surprising turn to country on "Look Who's Walking on Four Legs Again" is the album's high point.

34. ZZ Top: La Futura
La Futura is the best ZZ Top album since Eliminator. Ditching all the synthesizers for some good old 70's style hard rock, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard turn back the clock and crank up the guitars. "I Gotsa Get Paid," I Don't Wanna Lose, Lose You" "Flyin' High" and "Consumption" are classic sounding ZZ Top rockers and "Over You" is a more than respectable ballad. Gibbon's voice is almost pure guttural growl at this point but it suits the music well. By sticking to what they've always done best, ZZ Top come out on top in 2012.

33. Green Day: !Uno!, !Dos!, !Tre!
3 albums in a year is just plain too much for any artist so much like Guided By Voices, Green Day stretches themselves too thin throughout their ambitious trilogy but when it works it works fantastically. !Uno! is the best of the 3, with it's focus on straight pop punk but both !Dos! and !Tre! feature numerous high points. A double album featuring all the best songs would easily make the top ten this year but between unmemorable tracks and failed experiments ("Kill the DJ," "Nightlife") there's too much that's easily glossed over to really make all 3 albums completely worthwhile.

32. NOFX: Self Entitled
NOFX incorporate a bit more hardcore stylings into Self Entitled but for the most part it's business as usual. With songs ranging from the comic ("Cell Out") to the political ("Ronnie & Mags") or a mix of both ("72 Hookers") lots of Fat Mike's usual targets are hit on this but the highlight of the album is the slowest song. "I've Got One Jealous Again, Again" documents Mike's divorce in the form of splitting up the record collection. If nothing else it's a great point for anyone looking for some hints into 80's punk.

31. Teenage Bottlerocket: Freak Out!
This set of high energy Ramones style pop-punk isn't anything different that anything Teenage Bottlerocket have done on their previous 3 albums  but it's another damn fine set of humorous sing-a-long punk. Whether mocking metalheads ("Headbanging") or punks ("Punk House of Horror"), singing about rejection ("Done With Love") or asking to be sexually violated ("Mutilate Me") it's nearly impossible to not get caught up and Freak Out! Bonus points for writing a song about Top Gun ("Maverick") that's way better than the movie.

30. The Hives: Lex Hives
Lex Hives largely focuses on what the Hives do best, namely rocking the fuck out. With the exception of the new wave influenced "Wait a Minute Now" and a couple mid paced rockers ("I Want More" and the Howlin' Wolf influenced "Without the Money") the band gets back to basics and pushes the tempo on a fine set of raging garage rock. From the opening call to arms of "Come On!" until the closing "Midnight Shifter" (which displays some soul influences), Lex Hives is a blast.

29. Titus Andronicus: Local Business
The sound of Local Business is a bit off-putting at first for anyone familiar with Titus Andronicus' previous work. Gone are the giant walls of guitars and the stripped down results take a while to sink in. Fortunately once it does the high quality of the songs comes through loud and clear. Patrick Stickles still rages against pretty much everything (society, politicians, himself) but does so in a much more melodic and accessible way than ever before. Tracks like ""Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter" and "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape With the Flood of Detritus" may sound different than before but they're very much classic Titus Andronicus.

28. Trampled By Turtles: Stars and Satellites
Stars and Satellites might nor rock (relative term) as much as Trampled By Turtles previous work but they still crank up the tempo on "Walt Whitman" and "Sorry" and while those are some fine moments, nothing in the bands past is up to the quality of "Alone." The song is quite simply one of the most beautiful songs released by anyone this year. The rest of the album helps to prove that TBT is the finest contemporary bluegrass band in the business.

27. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill
 No one ever said Neil Young was unambitious. Psychedelic Pill opens with the 27 minute rambleathon "Driftin' Back" and features 2 other tracks that are 16 minutes long a piece ("Ramada Inn," "Walk Like a Giant"). There's a whole lot of dickin' around on guitar going on here and all 3 will surely test anyone's patience. On the plus side, the dickin' around generally works pretty well and there's some real cool solo's mixed in all over the place. The rest of the songs are all of a loose but high quality nature with the title track and "Born in Ontario" being standouts. While the album is better served as background music in spots it's still Neil Young and Crazy Horse so it's pretty awesome overall.

26. Gary Clark Jr: Blak and Blu
Gary Clark Jr is a very talented musician who isn't afraid to mix up a wide variety of styles but first and foremost he's an exceptional guitar player. The solo's scattered throughout every song on his debut album are the highlights and completely exhilarating. He's a damn fine singer as well but unfortunalely Clark's songwriting, while generally solid, and willingness to take on any style aren't at the same level ("The Life" might be the worst song from a good artist released this year). Fortunately he largely sticks to guitar based rock and blues and even if it's a bit too clean sounding, Blak and Blu is still a fantastic debut and Clark is an artist with a very bright future.