I lost the time, energy, and desire to consistently maintain PHW this year, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t listening. Here are my 50 favorite songs of the year, one song per artist. Hope the spotify playlist works, never tried embedding one before…
PHW is coming out of hibernation today to share what has lately become one of my favorite releases of the year. Plumes, a recently released LP by Dublin’s Ginnels, collects highlights from 3 digital-only releases dating back over the past few years. Singer/songwriter Mark Chester has an uncanny ability to churn out addictive, wistful jangle-pop of the very highest caliber – the whole album is just killer. This one sort of conveniently fell into my lap after browsing the excellent blog The Finest Kiss recently. Easily the year’s best unheard record so far.
I’ve written aboutThe Magnolia Demos before – 9 solo acoustic versions of tracks that appeared on Songs: Ohia’s final album before Jason Molina transitioned into Magnolia Electric Co.The songs are truly spectacular in this stripped down format – undeniable proof of just how much Molina had grown as a singer and songwriter over the last few years of Songs: Ohia.To my knowledge they’ve never seen release anywhere else since appearing with the very early pressing of the CD and LP versions of MEC.But following the recent passing of Molina, Secretly Canadian has made it (as well as every other Molina offering) available for a limited time as a bandcamp stream.Here’s your chance to check it out if you have never had the pleasure.The highlights are many (Molina sings lead on “The Old Black Hen” + “Peoria Lunchbox Blues”!), but to me this contains the best version of “Whip-Poor-Will” these ears have ever heard.Listen:
I’m out of hibernation tonight because of the untimely passing of Jason Molina. As the primary creative force behind Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. Molina was behind some of my favorite songs and records of the past dozen or so years. Didn’t it Rain, Magnolia Electric Co., and What Comes After the Blues are just flat out classic records, and scattered throughout the rest of his discography are a large batch of stirring songs that draw from folk, blues, country, and Crazy Horse-styled guitar rock. I don’t have anything profound to add to the conversation, just very sad to hear the news today and wanted to share one of my favorite Molina songs – “Whip-Poor-Will”, written around the time of Magnolia Electric Co. and later released on Josephine from 2009.
Been spending the time I used to spend posting about music here on PHW catching up with Sons of Anarchy and now Breaking Bad (both of which are easily right up there with my favorite shows of all time, fwiw).Just been on a major TV kick lately, not listening to a lot of new music these days – mainly just Yo La Tengo’s excellent new Fade and of course mbv.But one random tune to catch my ear this young year is this short, heavy garage/psych jam from Theo Verney called “Dead N Bones”.Verney’s a U.K. artist who writes, plays, and produces everything himself – yet still manages to make this song sound like it’s from some blistering and tragically unknown full band.So far there are just a handful of free singles on his bandcamp page – hopefully we’ll get something more soon.
One of my favorite singer/songwriters that I’ve come across since starting this blog 6 years ago is Wynn Walent, whose music I’ve written about and shared on multiple occasions over the years. Walent has only released, to my knowledge, a pair of EPs since 2007 – the masterful Upon Leaving and later another gem called Eating an Ocean. The reason, I suppose, for the general lack of prolificacy is Walent’s commitments to bigger and more important causes than making great indie-folk songs. He lives and works in Haiti, and devotes his time to educating and providing additional support for under-privileged children in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. It’s admirable work that he’s involved in, as the accompanying video displays.
Recently Walent organized and lent his singing talents to an EP of Haitian spirituals called Songs In The Night. The songs were recorded intimately in the chapel at St. Damien’s Hospital in Taberre, Haiti. The result is a disarmingly beautiful collection of songs. It’s a pay what you want at Bandcamp, but all proceeds will go to the Haitian voices heard in the music. It’s significantly different than the usual PHW fare I post around here, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t knock my winter socks off when I first heard it.
Stream: Ou Pa Janm Lage’m Yon Jou
Stream: Koupe Kod La
And here’s one of my favorite Walent originals – it’s from the Upon Leaving EP
The last few weeks of every year are always great for catching up with records you missed out on over the previous 12 months.This December has been no different, though admittedly it’s been a little thinner this year compared to others.That’s likely due to the fact that I was pretty good at zeroing in on exactly what I wanted to hear this year – not a lot slipped through the cracks.Two records that did manage to go by unnoticed were John Wesley Coleman III’s The Last Donkey Show and The Golden Boys’ Dirty Fingernails.I’ve been digging both tremendously over the past few days, and both likely would have done well on my “Albums2012” list had I heard them a few months or even weeks ago.
Though connected by Coleman (in addition to his solo work, he’s a member of Golden Boys), these two records offer slight differences from one another to make them interesting for their individual merits. His solo joint Last Donkey Show is the more sonically diverse; it’s full of horns, organ, and pedal steel guitar, giving these garage/folk songs a bit of a soul feel.The songs are uniformly excellent – Coleman’s lyrics are witty throughout and he pulls off the soulful slowburners like “The Howling” with aplomb.Nightmare/pop raver “She’s Like Dracula” is an early fave.Dirty Fingernails is the more straightforward garage rock record of the two, but even still the keys give the songs some added sonic weight.It’s also just a really cool record straight thru with tight, well-written songs that only get better with repeat listens (except for the awful “Daddy’s Horsewife” – the one and only dud on either record.Thankfully it’s only a minute long).If you dug bands I recommended this year like Spider Bags, King Khan & The Shrines, or The Tough Shits then both of these records are absolutely must haves. Dirty Fingernails was released on 12xU, Last Donkey Show by Goner.
Just got into this band’s Spoon-meets-new wave sound over the past few weeks after hearing their EPs from earlier this year. Here’s to hoping for a full length before long.
12. Thinkin’ About You / Frank Ocean
No doubt Ocean took the world by storm this year. The falsetto chorus on this song is genius. Soul music that truly bears the soul.
11. Oblivion / Grimes
Visions, as a whole, didn’t do much for me. But “Oblivion” and “Genesis” are undeniably thrilling and inventive singles.
10. Never Again / Royal Headache
I don’t think there is a band on this list whose future I am more excited about than Australia’s Royal Headache. From Shogun’s soul/punk vocals to the band’s blazing backing tracks, Royal Headache’s self-titled debut is full of brawlers and psychotic episodes so visceral they could be playing in your garage.
9. Friday Night / Spider Bags
Spider Bags’ drunken, take-no-prisoners rock & roll is best captured on this beer-soaked anthem.
Jurado has managed some gorgeous folk melodies in his 15 years of recording, but perhaps nothing he’s ever recorded is as purely celestial as this.
7. Heaven / The Walkmen
“Little House of Savages”, “The Rat”, “Louisiana”, “In the New Year”, “Angela/Surf City”. The Walkmen have penned some of indie rock’s most memorable songs of the past ten years. Heaven has a handful of songs that could sit alongside those classics, but none more so than the title track.
6. (tie) Thank God for the Sinners / Ty Segall (from Twins)
The Tongue / Ty Segall Band (from Slaughterhouse)
I guess I’m skirting around my self-imposed “one song per artist” rule with this one. But without that rule about 50% of this list might belong to Segall.
5. Is It Honest / Woods
For Woods, this is about as close as they come to some sort of indie-rock anthem. Bend Beyond is full of memorable songs and wondrous melodies – “Is It Honest” wins this spot by a nose over all the other gems.
4. Land I Love / Slow Country
For most of the year this song made me think of what Neil Young might sound like if he were still 24. Echoes of Buffalo Tom and Sun Kil Moon as well.
3. Oscillation / The Men
There were a bunch of contenders for this list from Open Your Heart – the muscular hard rock of “Turn It Around”, the Stonesy-romp of “Candy”, the art-punk brilliance of the title track and “Please Don’t Go Away”. But in the end its “Oscillation”, an extended, kraut-like scorcher, that most made me come back to this one.
2. Wild Desire / King Tuff
King Tuff released a handful of outstanding songs this year, a few on his self-titled Sub Pop debut, and a few on a scattering of 7”’s. “Wild Desire” is from a Suicide Squeeze single, and pretty much any other year this would be my runaway #1. It’s just such beautiful rock & roll poetry on top of a near infallible jam.
1. The House That Heaven Built / Japandroids
I wanted King Tuff to be #1 so bad, but when I heard this song for the first time sometime last spring I knew that nothing else would stand a chance. This song is just so complete, so Herculean in its every sound and movement that even a track as perfect as “Wild Desire” gets TKO’d by that first chorus.
Here they are, the 15 best records of 2012. Just listen. #30-16 here.
15. Dirty Projectors / Swing Lo Magellan
Stream: Gun Has No Trigger
14. Sic Alps / Sic Alps
13. The Babies / Our House on the Hill
Stream: Moonlight Mile
12. Parquet Courts / Light Up Gold
Stream: Borrowed Time
11. Boomgates / Double Natural
Stream: Whispering or Singing
10. Slow Country / The Late Great Slow Country
This collection of dreamy folk songs comes via one of Queens, NY’s best kept secrets. The fact that this priceless record is still available as a freedownload on their Bandcamp is just absurd.
Stream: Yes You Have
Stream: Land I Love
9. Spider Bags / Shake My Head
Shake My Head is a pure blast of rock & roll fury – a tight, deceptively adventurous set of songs that are worthy of group hugs, raised beers, and shouting along.
Steam: Friday Night
8. The Tough Shits / The Tough Shits
The Tough Shits’ self-titled LP just pumps out the garage/pop jams like some sort of A.M. radio heyday – it beats Gentlemen Jesse hands down at his own game. Every song here could be your favorite if it wasn’t for the one that comes next. Burger Records you guys.
Stream: Cats & Dogs
7. Damien Jurado / Maroqopa
Jurado’s been around since the 90s, crafting album after album of finely tuned folk and folk rock. Maroqopa is his second official collaboration with Richard Swift, and these guys are clicking on all cylinders at the moment. The first half finds Jurado exploring some jazzy/avant-folk styles with great results, and the more traditional back half contains some of the finest songs of his career.
Stream: Museum of Flight
6. Royal Headache / Royal Headache
The debut from these Aussie garage-rockers is brimming with swagger, undeniable hooks, and great great songs. I caught up with this one last December, but its U.S.-release last spring opened the doors to a whole new audience. Have you heard this shit yet?
Stream: Never Again
5. The Walkmen / Heaven
I have no qualms saying that The Walkmen are my favorite working band. Heaven may not be their best album (that goes to the 2008’s infallible You & Me), but it just maintains the plateau these guys have been working from for the past half decade, while introducing even more nuance and gravitas into this wonderful band’s sound.
4. Japandroids / Celebration Rock
The sophomore set from this Canadian duo has been in virtually every conversation all year of the best rock records of 2012. This one is even tighter, louder, and more heroic than the debut – the most perfectly named LP of the year to boot.
Stream: The House that Heaven Built
3. Woods / Bend Beyond
Woods might be the most undervalued band working today. These guys continue to jam pack their annual albums with wall-to-wall hooks, and Bend Beyond is their most immediate and fully formed LP to date.
Stream: Cali In A Cup
2. The Men / Open Your Heart
On their latest and most sonically diverse album yet, The Men lay waste to virtually everything in their path. I was late to the masterpiece that was last year’s Leave Home (it would be a sure-fire top-5 if I re-examined my list right now), but Open Your Heart has been blasting since it dropped last winter, and I haven’t gone more than a week or two between spins since.
Stream: Open Your Heart
1. Ty Segall / Twins,Slaughterhouse
Nobody owned 2012 like Segall, releasing three psyche/fuzz full lengths full of the year’s best songs of the kind. Fraternal albums in every sense, Twins and Slaughterhouse differ only slightly – Twins, the true solo album, more melodic and direct; Slaughterhouse, with the Ty Segall Band, heavy and menacing. Both damn near perfect.
"No, don't call me a hero. Do you know who the real heroes are? The guys who wake up every morning and go to their normal jobs and get a distress call from the commissioner and take off their glasses and change into capes and fly around fighting crime. Those are the real heroes."
Pop Headwound shares legally released mp3s that are intended for sampling. If an mp3 linked on this blog should be taken down, please contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org and it will be removed as soon as possible.
If you enjoy the music on this site please support the artists by purchasing their music through the provided links or walking to your local independent record store. Then when they come to your town go to the show, listen intently, and clap enthusiastically between songs. And buy a poster, t-shirt, koozie, button, drinks for the band, whatever. It all helps keep independent music going, and if you're reading this right now that's important to you.