THE BEST ALBUMS
Strange pop gems, country dirges, sad songs, indie rock icons, punk treatises and megahit albums cross my desk throughout the year.
Most of them aren't that good. Some are listenable. A few — very, very few — have stuck with us like good friends that we hang out with over and over.
I combed the stacks and stacks (and more stacks — you should see my desk) for the very best from 2012. These are the albums that touched me somehow, kept spinning in my CD player and continued to pipe through my headphones this year.
THE BEST SONGS
Some songs, rock or pop or hip-hop, just stick with you. “Call Me Maybe” was the one, in particular, that never seemed to go away (not that I minded, really), but others also followed us wherever we went, from the beach to the bars and from Monday-morning drives to Mexico.
These tunes were the best we found in the last year.
“Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen — Didn't everybody love this? I did. Catchy and maybe a bit kitschy, this song is so good that I haven't heard a bad cover of it yet. And there have been a lot in all kinds of styles. It stands up.
“This Summer” by Superchunk — The song of the summer captured the essence of heading to the ocean (or the lake might be more common in these parts) with friends and a cassette tape full of hiss.
“Honolulu Blues” by Craig Finn — This song from the Hold Steady's frontman that contrasts beauty with reality (and the message of Jesus with what's really going on in the world) hits home with the line, “We're all good, we're all bad/We're euphoric and we're sad.”
“Bicycle” by Skylar Grey (feat. Eminem) — This song is full of innuendo, but I think Grey is poking fun at other pop stars who indulge in this sort of fare. It captures the essence of a pop tune while mocking it at the same time.
“Madness” by Muse — Muse had a hit mixing EDM with its stadium rock sound.
“Reagan Era” by the Whipkey Three — Not a lot of songs by local artists get stuck in my head. This one did. A lot.
“Simple Song” by The Shins — The best song from The Shins' latest effort is anything but simple. It's crashing, shimmering beauty.
“Thrift Store” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — You really can rap about anything, as Macklemore showed on this track about wearing “your granddad's clothes.”
“Backsell” by Desaparecidos — The feedback and drum thumps pull you into a power-chord bash that rips apart the music industry and its search for the next best thing.
“Oh Love” by Green Day — This tune reminds me of “Dookie”-era Green Day in all its poppy, punky glory.
“Sixteen Saltines” by Jack White — From hollow, echoing four chords to the very end, this was one of the hardest-hitting songs all year.
“Some Nights” by fun. — I got sick of this one of late, but there's no denying the way this song combines vocals and drums and melody (even if the lyrics make no sense).
“Emmylou” by First Aid Kit — Produced in Nebraska, this song from the Swedish folk duo pays tribute to their favorite American country and folk artists.
“Generals” by the Mynabirds — Man, this song's opening melody just pulls you in. And the call-and-response near the end makes it into an anthem.
THE BEST CONCERTS
What a year of shows. From Conor Oberst's secret show at Krug Park in January to some local shows I'm catching this weekend (Little Brazil plays some new stuff tonight at The Waiting Room Lounge, FYI), I've seen hundreds of bands.
It took a while to figure out my favorites from this long year, but here's my Top 12 (merely 10 wasn't going to cut it).
South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas — March 14-18
From hearing Norah Jones' complete, new album to seeing the as-yet-unkown Icky Blossoms bring a bunch of Austinites to the dance floor, it was a memorable festival. Other favorites were Foy Vance and River City Extension.
McCarthy Trenching at O'Leaver's — April 19
This show was rumored as a Desaparecidos practice gig, but they never showed up. I was happy with that because it meant McCarthy got to play a few ragtime tunes, some old favorites and several songs from his latest album as McCarthy Trenching, “Plays the Piano.”
Desaparecidos — April 24 This ended up being a big deal, but it felt very intimate. Rolling Stone and every other music publication picked up the story. Still, the best part was hearing new music from Conor Oberst's punk band and seeing them with the smallest crowd they've played to in years. I still have a handwritten copy of the setlist from the band.
Deer Tick at The Waiting Room Lounge — May 20
I didn't know how great this would be until I stood there shouting the lyrics of “Let's All Go to the Bar” at the close of the set. Covers of The Replacements' “Bastards of Young” and the Beastie Boys' “Fight For Your Right” were excellent.
Lucero at The Waiting Room Lounge — July 2
The band pulled out the stops and played nearly everything, and bandleader Ben Nichols even took requests from fans.
Def Leppard with Poison at TD Ameritrade Park — July 21
Call me pleasantly surprised. I thought these guys would be washed up, but they were excellent. This was the crown jewel of the second, and last, Red Sky Music Festival. (Au revoir, Red Sky.)
Jack White at Hollywood Candy — Aug. 6
His show that night was fun, but the secret, six-song set played in Hollywood Candy's tiny theater was fantastical. White threw as much energy into the room of 100 people as he did that night for thousands at the Music Hall.
My Morning Jacket with Band of Horses at Pinewood Bowl — Aug. 7
A beautiful venue played host to two fantastic bands. It was a pretty perfect night.
Maha Music Festival — Aug. 11
Dum Dum Girls brought swagger and energy, Icky Blossoms turned a grassy lawn into a dance party, Desaparecidos played the Clash's “Spanish Bombs” and Garbage actually played “I'm Only Happy When it Rains” while it was raining. Flawless victory.
Silversun Pickups at Sumtur Amphitheater — Sept. 17
The energy rose higher and higher until fans bounced and popped for “Lazy Eye,” “Neck of the Woods” and “Out of Breath.” Sumtur is another new, great venue.
Red Hot Chili Peppers at CenturyLink Center — Oct. 28
I expected the band to play a lot of new, lame, unfamiliar tunes, but they spanned the entire catalog and brought as much energy as when I last saw them more than a decade ago.
Bruce Springsteen at CenturyLink Center — Nov. 15
Several songs from “Nebraska” were the highlight from this whirlwind of a show that took us from “Reason to Believe” to “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” (with a stop at “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” along the way).